On Monday, August 21, viewers in the continental United States will be witness to a rare, spectacular event: the total eclipse of the sun by the moon.
On Monday, August 21, viewers in the continental United States will be witness to a rare, spectacular event: the total eclipse of the sun by the moon. This will be the first total eclipse of the Sun seen in the United States since 1979. And Texas will be able to enjoy most of the event in spectacular fashion.
Though the moon orbits the earth every 28 days, the alignment of the earth, the moon, and the sun to produce an eclipse only happens rarely. A wide arc of the U.S. will fall into total darkness on August 21 as the eclipse crosses the nation, from Salem, Oregon, curving across to Casper, Wyoming, to Missouri through Kansas City and St. Louis, then to Nashville, Tennessee, and down to Charleston, South Carolina. The path of the totality, or area of total eclipse, will be about 70 miles wide and viewers in the zone of the totality will be under a total eclipse for roughly two minutes as the Moon’s shadow crosses the Earth at a speed of 2000 miles per hour.
Eclipses have been sighted for centuries. Among the earliest recorded eclipses occurred in ancient Mesopotamia in 1375 BC. Ancient Egyptians, who worshipped the Sun, were reportedly so disturbed by the bad omens associated with eclipses that they would never mention or write about them, fearing bad luck. Some scholars have pointed to eclipses in AD 29 and AD 33 as possibly being the eclipses observed during the crucifixion of Christ.
Historically, eclipses have been met with both fascination and dread. The Chinese believed that dragons were eating the Sun, causing an eclipse. An old Choctaw legend held that a black squirrel caused solar eclipses when it tried to eat the Sun and that the people needed to make noises to scare it off. Similarly, the Cherokees believed that a giant frog jumped onto the sun to cause the eclipse and that the people must beat drums and make loud noises to scare it away. For generations, Navajos believed that they should not eat during an eclipse or they would experience digestive problems. Navajo traditions also warned against looking at the Sun during an eclipse, or they would go blind. The ancient Mayans were able to carefully calculate when eclipses would occur.
Eclipses have also been an important tool for scientific discovery. Astronomers discovered a new comet during an eclipse in AD 418. The sun’s corona was first noticed in an eclipse in 968. In the eighteenth century, solar prominences, eruptions on the sun’s surface, were observed. These all helped give important information on how the Sun worked. The first eclipse photographed was in 1860. Eclipses in 1919 and 1929 helped confirm Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity by confirming that the light of stars traveling near the Sun was bent by the Sun’s intense gravity.
The maximum eclipse for August 21 for West Texas and the Panhandle will occur around 12:55 PM. For eastern Arkansas, this will occur at about 1:15. The beginnings of the eclipse will occur around 11:30 AM in West Texas and at 11:45 AM in East Texas. In the Abilene area, viewers will see 76 percent coverage, peaking at 1:03 p.m. Viewers in Northeast Texas will get the best view, with 85 percent of the Sun eclipsed in Texarkana. The eclipse will end around 2:30 p.m.
Viewers must remember that they should never look at the sun directly. Even with most of the sun obscured, the glare is too intense for the human eye to tolerate. Looking directly at the sun is dangerous and could cause permanent eye damage. Not even regular sunglasses or binoculars are safe. Darkened welder’s glass is the only safe glass dark enough to view an eclipse through. The classic pinhole projector will offer safe viewing: simply poke a small hole through one sheet of paper (poster board or cardboard can also work) and allow the fading sunlight to project onto another piece of paper.
NASA has unveiled a website for the eclipse, including tips on viewing the event safely at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety. Some community organizations in different areas will host eclipse viewings to allow residents to safely enjoy the event.
An even more exciting eclipse for Texans will occur on April 8, 2024, as a total eclipse will be observed crossing the heart of the state, with a totality of more then 100 miles wide. The totality in 2024 will cross Eagle Pass, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Texarkana. Nature offers incredible wonders when we are willing to observe.