Joe’s Solar Eclipse Blog: It’ll be EPIC(!!!)…we hope…[part 1]
Well it’s getting to the point that you can’t check the internet…or watch the news without hearing something about the eclipse…which is a good thing for us from Downtown KC (more on that specific location at the end of the blog) northwards especially. This really is going to be a once in a lifetime event. The problem with “once in a lifetime events” is that sometimes things can go “poof” on you…and what will create that “poof”…clouds (lots of them) and or rain. I’m writing this 9 days before the eclipse actually happens and I’m seeing meteorologists who should know better actually try and forecast the weather for a 5 minute to 2 hour period 9 days out…that’s a joke. There is little to no skill in forecasting that type of scenario. Sure I could say there may be “clouds around”…so what else is new? That though is an aside…the forecasts will get better a few days before the eclipse and hopefully, depending on the weather pattern that sets up, we should have a good idea the day beforehand. In reality though…if we can get a return back to more “typical” August weather…I like our chances…
That’s not why I started this blog…what I want to do with this blog is create something that you can easily share with your friends…relatives…students (hello teachers) and family about some of the basics that A) you may have forgotten from school and B) that you may not have thought about. So let’s get started…
1) What is a total solar eclipse? That really should be a starting point right? There are different types of eclipses…lunar…annular…partial and total. Total solar eclipses happen virtually every year or so. To have one though come across your community though is a rare thing indeed. The last one for KC was back in 1806 I believe. Totality lasted for over 4 minutes in KC! Here is a map showing the 1806 path…
So IF you miss this one…when is the next one…well it’s going to be a while…and I guarantee you WON’T see it…odds are your children won’t either. There is another one that will just barely graze KC…that will be in July of 2205!
So I’m proving my point to you…total solar eclipses are rare for any one point in the world!
Again though what is a total solar eclipse?
Basically it occurs because of several factors that have to line up perfectly. I think we know about the sun already…it’s some 93 million miles from the earth. The earth orbits around the sun. In addition to that, about 240,000 miles away the moon orbits around the earth.
Every so often, about every 18 months…the moon’s orbit get’s right between the earth and the sun in a perfect arrangement that a total solar eclipse can occur. Basically the sun’s light hits the far side of the moon…then a shadow is cast to the surface of the earth…where that shadow is maximized, in the case of the one coming on 8/21…you get a total solar eclipse. Keeping in mind that the earth’s orbit fluctuates and the moon’s orbit has slight variations every year…it takes a small miracle to get one in your community. Lo’ and behold though here we go.
2) Are there different eclipses? Yes! There is a lunar eclipse…when the earth blocks out the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the moon…there are partial solar eclipses…when part of the moon blocks out the light hitting the earth’s surface and then there is something called an annular eclipse. This occurs when the moon blocks out most of the sun’s light because the moon appears smaller than the sun.
Again this though will be a TOTAL solar eclipse.
3) So IF I’m not in the path of TOTALITY…it will still be neat right? Well yes…and a bit no though. In a total solar eclipse TOTALITY means EVERYTHING. Areas just south of downtown KC will experience a partial eclipse. While more than 99% of the sun will be blocked…it’s NOT TOTAL. So yes…very cool but…
4) What’s the big deal about TOTALITY? I can’t stress this enough…some say it’s almost life changing…to see something that odds are you may never see again. From a safety standpoint…more on this later…it’s the ONLY time you can TAKE OFF the filtered glasses and watch what happens. From mere seconds to over 2 minutes and 35 seconds (depending on where you are in the area) you may see something like this…
That is the “money shot”. You get to see the sun’s corona…you may get to see some of the “prominences”. These are solar gases/filaments that erupt from the sun’s surface and typically loop back around. The material of a prominence is called plasma and because of magnetic fields on the sun…the appear tangled and twisted. IF you get to witness that (again ONLY without the filtered glasses) you’ll NEVER see that again in person probably…that’s the KEY about TOTALITY!
5) So that’s great…who are the lucky ones to have at least a chance to see something like this? Here is a NASA map showing the area that gets TOTALITY
The times represent the approximate time of totality…the lines within the shadow represent the length of time of TOTALITY. Notice metro KC is bisected really.
One other IMPORTANT note. There is a matter of the sun’s precise size as this moment approaches a particular area. This is where things get a bit messy perhaps for the far southern and northern edge (literally the apprx. 1 mile edge or so of this TOTALITY). The sun is never in a steady state…it’s constantly and subtly growing and shrinking. Not a lot mind you…but enough that some astronomers are saying that the far edge of TOTALITY could easily be OFF by 1/2 mile or so. With the far southern edge coming right into the Downtown KC area that is not good. We won’t know till it happens or not though for downtown KC.
Here is a map and it shows that IF the NASA track is off by just a small amount…1/2 mile-2 miles…parts of Downtown may just BARELY miss out.
6) So how can I guarantee I see something amazing? Drive north into Platte County…or really north of the MO River…if you can go 5-10 miles farther north of the EDGE of the map above…good for you. Assuming the clouds cooperate of course.
OK that’s it for part 1…more to come as we get closer to the blog day.