Eclipse Deep Dive - What, Why, Where, When

4 weeks 11 hours 18 minutes ago June 27, 2017 Jun 27, 2017 Tuesday, June 27 2017 Tuesday, June 27, 2017 12:19:00 PM CDT in Eclipse Science
By: Kenton Gewecke, KOMU 8 Chief Meteorologist
Courtesy NASA

COLUMBIA - Have you heard the news? A total solar eclipse is heading to mid-Missouri! Join KOMU 8 as we dissect every angle of this rare phenomenon. Every Wednesday on KOMU 8 News at Six we will explore a new aspect of this event which is sure to affect nearly everyone in mid-Missouri in more ways than one.

To kick things off, KOMU 8 Chief Meteorologist Kenton Gewecke has compiled a list of fun facts and answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the total solar eclipse.

When: Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

Where: Coast-to-Coast, Northwest to Southeast, across the United States of America

Check NASA's interactive map to see when it will move through your specific area.

You can also see what it will look like from your backyard HERE.

How rare is it really?

This is the first time a total solar eclipse has been over the state of Missouri since Aug. 7, 1869 (148 years), when one clipped the northeastern corner of the state. This is the first time over mid-Missouri since July 7, 1442 (575 years!!) although what is now Jefferson City was a few miles south of seeing totality that year. Remember, Missouri didn't become a state until 1821.

Although it is safe to say this is a once in a lifetime event, in a very rare occurrence, the next total solar eclipse over the United States will also hit Missouri, this time the southeastern corner, through Cape Girardeau. That happens on April 8, 2024 – less than seven years away.

For the many reasons you will come to learn, it is still very important to see it now while it is traveling over your mid-Missouri hometown. Having to travel to see a total solar eclipse can be difficult. No other total solar eclipse will move through Missouri in the 21st century. The next total solar eclipses to move over mid-Missouri will be on June 3, 2505 (488 years away), July 22, 2772 (755 years away!), and Sept 17, 2992 (975 years away!!). Should we be calling this a once-in-multiple-lifetimes event?

But what is it exactly?

Those of us in the “path of totality” will be cast into an extraordinary shadow. Day will become night. Temperatures will drop drastically. Animals will think it’s nighttime. Birds will return to their nests. Flower buds will close. We will see stars and planets in the sky. Not to mention, the best sight of all, the Solar Corona. The Sun's light is so bright it blinds us from seeing its corona day-to-day, so it can only be observed during a total eclipse when the moon blocks out the Sun’s light and all we’re able to see is the Sun’s atmosphere, consisting of 2-million-degree plasma. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Why is this even possible?

Because science (and math) is so cool, my friends. Get this: the Sun is 100 times bigger than Earth. Earth is 4 times bigger than the moon. Therefore, the Sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, plus it is also 400 times farther away from the Earth than the moon. That means the Sun and the moon appear to be the same size to us from the Earth’s surface. Therefore, when the moon is in the right spot, it covers the Sun totally. It is because of this incredible coincidence we get to experience total solar eclipses! I told you: science is cool.

How wide and fast is the path of totality?

It is different for each eclipse, but this year’s total solar eclipse will have a path about 70 miles wide. This shadow, called an umbral shadow, will be moving nearly 1,500 mph as it passes over mid-Missouri. Everyone outside of this path will only see a partial eclipse. In fact, all fifty U.S. states will see a partial solar eclipse as well as everyone in Canada and Mexico! It must be noted that the difference between seeing 99% totality and 100% totality is comparable to eating your favorite food once a year vs. eating your favorite food as often as you please (without any health detriments if applicable). Be in the path of totality!

Will traffic be an issue?

The short answer: YES. Be prepared for a lot more vehicles on the roads Saturday-Monday. 

The last total solar eclipse over mid-Missouri was in 1442, nearly 380 years before Missouri would become a state. The last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse across America was 99 years ago. It’s safe to say back then technology was NOT what it is today. That being said, this eclipse will be the most widely observed and shared celestial event in U.S. history.

THINK ABOUT THIS: 12.2 million Americans live within the path of totality. More impressive yet, 80 percent of the nation lives within a day’s drive of totality, that’s around 264 million people – and that does NOT include international visitors. It is difficult to predict the exact number of people who will drive into the 70-mile wide path of totality – but it is easy to predict traffic will be a major issue. Missouri is planning on one million visitors.

Experts urge people to arrive within the path of totality a day or two in advance. But think about this - what if it's cloudy in St. Joseph, Missouri? Hundreds of thousands will try to move Northwest or Southeast towards us. And while people will begin arriving in the path of totality sporadically the weekend before Monday August, 21st - they're all going to try and leave around the same time. This is very likely going to be one of the greatest traffic jam's the United States has ever experienced.

What are the different types of solar eclipses?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Sun is totally covered by the moon. All you are able to see is a starry night’s sky and the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere. (See “But what is it exactly?” for more on the effects this eclipse entails.)

A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Sun is only partially covered by the moon. It will still look cool, but it is nothing compared to being in totality.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is too far away from the Earth to actually cover the whole Sun (it appears smaller than the Sun). This leaves a ring of the Sun’s light around the moon. This light is too bright for any effects of a total solar eclipse to appear.

Conclusion: while all of these would be worth a look, none can compare to the experience of a total solar eclipse.

How long is the event?

It will last for different amounts of time depending on where you live. There are two parts to the event: the partial solar eclipse and the total solar eclipse. To use Cosmo Park in Columbia, Missouri, as an example:

Partial Eclipse Begins: 11:45:36 AM

Total Eclipse Begins: 1:12:17 PM

Total Eclipse Ends: 1:14:53 PM

Partial Eclipse End: 2:40:09 PM

As you can see, the entire event lasts nearly three hours. However, the star of the show, totality, lasts for only a couple of minutes (if you are lucky). The times will be different depending on where you are along the path. You can see a list of mid-Missouri city and town times HERE.

What can I expect to happen in my environment?

Day will be slowly turning into night. The temperature will begin to drop when the Sun is half covered. Some temperatures may drop more than 10 degrees during totality! Remember, night will be rapidly forced upon the area - when you shut off the Sun's heat, temperatures must go down (assuming there is a lack of dense cloud cover). Animals and plants will act as if it is night: birds will return to their nests, flowers may close, etc. Street lights will turn on (and remember your car lights if you happen to be on the road [though you should do your best to be off the roads during totality for safety]). You will be able to see stars and a few bright planets. Winds may pick up as pressure changes slightly during to the temperatures changes. All of this for a couple minutes in the middle of an August day! Is anyone else excited or is it just me?

What can scientists learn from a total solar eclipse?

Scientists can learn more about the Sun's Corona, or atmosphere. What we see as the yellow surface of the sun is called the photosphere and has a temperature of 10,000 degrees F. The corona is the thin outer gaseous solar atmosphere far above the sun's surface and it can reach 3 million degrees F! How is this possible? Normally the further out from a source of heat the cooler the gas becomes? This is still unresolved by scientists! When the Sun's light is covered we are allowed to see and better study the corona. Hear from a NASA solar scientist and a former mid-Missouri Astronaut HERE.

Can I watch the eclipse with my regular sunglasses?

NO! You must have special glasses in order to safely and effectively view the eclipse. As we know, while wearing your normal sunglasses day-to-day you shouldn’t be looking directly into the Sun; that same fact is true for an eclipse.

This event will start and end with a partial solar eclipse, sandwiching the total solar eclipse. During the partial solar eclipse the Sun’s light will still be blindingly bright. However, during totality it is safe to take off your glasses and see the starry night sky and the Sun’s corona. In fact, if you don't take your glasses off you won't see anything at all! The moment totality starts to fade and the Sun’s light begins flooding back in you'll need to return to your special glasses if you want to watch the now-renewed partial solar eclipse.

Where can I get these special glasses and are they expensive?

They are very cheap. In fact, they are made with cardboard. Though they may seem too cheap to be safe or effective, their special film is vital to keeping your eyes safe.

The Mizzou Store is selling eclipse glasses for $1 with some of the proceeds going to the Astronomy program at MU.

What special events can I go to throughout the weekend and day-of?

Special events are being held throughout mid-Missouri and there are more details on our Show Me Eclipse page.

 

 

MoDOT has a few safety tips below:

 

Watch the science behind the total solar eclipse in a 3D visual:

 

Have a question not answered here?

Send it to KOMU 8 Chief Meteorologist Kenton Gewecke.

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