Columbia Astronomers Use Solar Eclipse to Prepare for 2017 Event

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COLUMBIA - MU scientists are hoping an astronomic event happening Friday can help them prepare for a solar eclipse 2 1/2 years away. 

A total solar eclipse will be seen throughout Europe on Friday, meaning the moon is covering the sun completely, giving sky-lovers the ability to see a dark figure in the sky with a glowing white ring around it. While solar eclipses are somewhat common, total solar eclipses are very rare. One hasn't been visible in the United States since 1979. 

However, on August 21, 2017 a total solar eclipse will be visible in Missouri and researchers are doing everything they can right now to prepare for it. 

"It's our first day of the semester," said Dr. Angela Speck, MU's Director of Astronomy. "It will also be Columbia Public Schools first day of the semester. We want to arrange so people can see this. We need to prepare our calendars right now and help people plan for safety." 

Speck said currently, many astronomers are in Norway watching this event and trying to see what they can do to make the viewing experience as good as possible for people in the U.S. once the eclipse comes. While 2 1/2 years sounds early to plan for an event, Speck said in the science world this is not the case. 

"We always plan everything a long time in advance," Speck said "When I started graduate school in 1993 I was working on the Rosetta mission that just landed a probe on a comet." 

From a science standpoint, Speck also said there's a lot researchers can learn from a total solar eclipse. 

"It's an event where we get to see things that we don't normally see," Speck said. "There's actually parts of the sun that we can't see since it's so bright, and when you block out the sun you can see all the stuff that's around called the corona so you get to see something that you otherwise would never get to see." 

Speck said that currently there are plans to host a viewing party for the 2017 eclipse at Faurot Field, though she has to talk to incoming Athletic Director Mack Rhoades. 

What's also very unique about Friday is there there will be a supermoon and Friday is also the March equinox. 

A super-moon is when the moon appears at its largest size and looks to viewers as if its close to earth. The March equinox is the day when the amount of daylight is the same as the amount of time it is dark outside. However, Speck said this is a common misconception and is actually not true.

"A lot of people think it's the day where we have 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, but actually it's not true," Speck said. "It would be if we didn't have an atmosphere, but our atmosphere messes everything up so we don't have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night."

It is very rare for a solar eclipse to occur the same day as an equinox. The next time they will fall on the same date will be 19 years from now in 2034.