Wednesday, 22 May, 2024


How to maximise the solar eclipse experience

Technology Desk |
Update: 2024-04-08 10:29:48
How to maximise the solar eclipse experience photo collected

Make the most of this once-in-100-years eclipse event with educational and entertaining travel.

In just a few weeks' time, the total solar eclipse scheduled to occur on 8 April 2024 is slated to be one of the most exciting celestial events in years. The eclipse will trace a path across the United States from the south-western regions of Texas to the north-eastern states of Maine.

This spectacular visual phenomenon will see the Moon completely covering the Sun, casting a shadow on Earth and plunging areas along the eclipse's path into temporary darkness. This celestial spectacle is expected to last for around four minutes in some locations, providing astronomers, scientists and the general public with a unique opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the sun's corona. Here's what eclipse-chasing travellers need to know about where – and how – to maximise your viewing experience.

What is a total solar eclipse?
A total solar eclipse is quite an experience, says Kirsten M Ellenbogen, an expert in science education and president & CEO at Great Lakes Science Center. "Here on Earth, we experience a total solar eclipse when we're standing in the shadow of the Moon. So it's a phenomenon that occurs when the Moon appears, to us here on Earth, to block the sun's entire disc in the sky."

Simply put, "A solar eclipse happens when the Moon goes in between the Sun and the Earth. [It] occurs when the Moon is close enough to the Earth and completely blocks the direct sunlight," explained Bob Baer, director of the School of Physics and Applied Physics department's public astronomy observation programme at Southern Illinois University.

This particular eclipse is more exciting than those before it, because so many people across North America will have  a clear view of totality, when the Moon completely covers the Sun.

"Eclipses in general – the Moon and Sun lining up to create a total solar eclipse – that really does happen about once every 18 months, but they don't always cross the continental US. In fact, they don't always cross land," said Ellenbogen. "So many times, that total solar eclipse that's experienced for just a couple minutes on the surface of the Earth, is over water." This is one of the longest paths an eclipse has taken over the continental US, and the next won't occur over the US until 2044.

Do not look directly at the sun during an eclipse (or ever). The easiest way to make sure you have adequate protection is to check the American Astronomical Society's website, which lists approved distributors of solar eclipse glasses. Eclipse viewers will need protective eyewear from a reputable company – the international standard is called ISO 12312-2.

Ellenbogen explains that because "you don't have pain receptors at the back of your eyes", many people aren't aware of the damage they're doing while staring at the sun – simply because it's not causing them pain in the moment. 

"It's critical when you're viewing an eclipse to have protective eyewear, and not any eyewear will be sufficient," said Ellenbogen, adding that approved solar viewing glasses are extra protective so that you can look safely "directly at the Sun, before and after totality".

There are a few options for watching without glasses, such as indirect viewing, a colander (yes, like a pasta strainer, that you hold up to cast a shadow against a white piece of paper), or make your own pinhole projector.

Finally, you can look up when the Sun is actually blocked, says Baer. "A total solar eclipse can be viewed with your naked eye only during totality when the entire disk of the Sun is blocked. No special glasses are required because you are viewing the solar corona, which is about as bright as a full Moon."

As noted, the eclipse will show totality across a large swath of the United States from Texas all the way to Maine, and many universities and science centres are hosting fun, educational events to celebrate. Of course, if you've travelled to a spot where you have totality, you can also just watch the magic from your front porch. 

Says Ellenbogen: "Because a total eclipse really changes the lighting, the actual moment of totality, those minutes where we're experiencing totality, even if it's cloudy, you will have an extraordinary experience as everything dims around you."

Carbondale, Illinois

Situated in a unique spot on the planet (at least when it comes to recent eclipses), Carbondale, Illinois, experienced totality on 21 August 2017 and will do so again on 8 April 2024. You can join thousands of eclipse enthusiasts at the Southern Illinois Crossroads Eclipse Festival at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Saluki Stadium. Expect to learn a lot at this event, which will host talks and presentations, solar telescopes, high-altitude balloon launches, citizen-science eclipse projects and even a craft fair. The event will be hosted by Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society, and he will act as a guide to the events in the sky. You'll be able to view the eclipse from anywhere in the stadium and handheld cameras are encouraged. Tickets are $25 (£19.64) for adults and $5 (£3.93) for children.

Cleveland, Ohio

The Total Eclipse Festival promises to be an amazing experience. The Great Lakes Science Center and its partners NASA's Glenn Research Center and The Cleveland Orchestra will host the celestial celebration at North Coast Harbor in downtown Cleveland. Completely free for everyone, this outdoors, family-friendly festival will feature free concerts (including a performance from the Cleveland Orchestra on 7 April), performances, speakers and hands-on science activities with community partners. Cleveland is the only totality spot in the US to have a NASA centre, so expect experts and astronauts to be in attendance. Both NASA and the Science Center will be handing out complimentary viewing glasses.

Houlton, Maine

Up north in Maine, the Moon will completely cover the Sun in parts of Maine for three and a half minutes. The Maine Eclipse Festival, running from 5-8 April, features events for the whole family, in addition to providing excellent viewing. On 7 April, the festival offers bus trips to the Maine Solar System Model, the largest 3D scale model of the solar system in the western hemisphere, along with a stop at the planetarium at the Francis Malcolm Science Center. There are also crafts for kids at the Houlton Riverfront Park on 6 April, an eclipse metaphysical tent for tarot readings and a craft brew fest for parents.

Kerrville, Texas

As well as some of the best views of totality, Texas has the Schreiner University Eclipse Festival, which will be (based on its location almost smack dab in the middle of the state) the first university in the US to experience totality. The festival will run all weekend, from 4-8 April, and will include stargazing at Loftis Observatory, guest speakers movies and food. If you'd like to stay for all four days, tickets are pricey, but they include a four-night stay, three meals a day and activities like stargazing and wine tasting.

From the sky

There's an even more unique way for astronomy fans to take in this celestial event, and that's from the sky. Delta is offering special flights in the path of totality, one out of Austin and one from Dallas-Fort Worth that will land in Detroit on 8 April.

Beyond the specific eclipse-chaser flights, if you're flying in the middle of the country on 8 April, you may want to pack a pair of eclipse glasses, as many regular flights – such as Salt Lake City to Austin, and Los Angeles to Dallas-Fort Worth – will intersect with the eclipse. Nothing compares to taking in the experience from 30,000ft (9,144m) high.

Source: BBC

BDST: 1026 HRS, APR 08, 2024

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