Monday, March 27, 2017

Journey to the Shadow, No. 1

On August 21, millions of people will look skyward to witness a spectacle not seen in 38 years—a total eclipse over the continental United States. This time, the shadow will span the continental U.S. from coast to coast, the first to do so since 1918. Even those in the U.S. who will not be in the path of totality, will see a partial solar eclipse.

The August 21 eclipse might be the most viewed sky event in history. The Sun’s shadow will travel from Oregon to South Carolina. In addition, the shadow will pass over thousands of miles of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. But the shadow will touch no other land.

This will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in 38 years. One eclipse did pass over Hawaii in 1981. But the last for the continental U.S. was February 26, 1979. Sadly, few saw it because observers had to be in one of only five states in the northwest, and the wintry weather was bad along the path of totality.

Before the 1979 eclipse, there was the eclipse of March 7, 1970. That eclipse passed up the U.S. east coast. More people directly saw that eclipse than the 1979 eclipse, but because that was 47 years ago, few in the United States are still with us who saw the 1970 total eclipse with their own eyes.

For August 21 total eclipse, I plan to add my name to the list of those who have seen a total eclipse for themselves. I plan to stand in the path of totality and experience night in the daytime. Along the way, I will review the phenomenon which we call solar and lunar eclipses. I will recount the history, delve into the mythology, and try to separate the fact from fiction. This is just my first step. Join me on my journey to the shadow.