Fleeting floating fantasy in the sky


Taylor Tames

A group of FHS students during third period lunch watching and enjoying the growing eclipse.

Austin Liu, News Editor, Reporter

Bright and scorching colors from the sun radiating onto the ground below flicker and dim suddenly. The source of light disappears by the second, and the sky darkens as if it were a sunset in the evening, creating a beautiful mirage of colors. At one point, the sun is totally blocked by the outline of the moon except for its outer edge. However, this is no normal sunset or setting for a nicely taken panorama photo. What is occurring through the course of these events is a scientific phenomenon known as a solar eclipse: a special astronomical event more rare and stunning than just the daily sunset or the panorama photo. It is exactly that that will take place on Monday, August 21, 2017, from coast to coast in the United States.

Yet, many people know of this forthcoming event, but do not fully understand the basics of what exactly occurs during a solar eclipse, sometimes confusing it with a lunar eclipse, and what really causes a solar eclipse to appear clear in the sky. NBC News answers those questions, stating, “A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking the sun’s light and forming a fast-moving shadow on the surface of our planet. Because of the geometry of eclipses, the moon’s shadow is narrow when it reaches Earth, so the region from which the eclipse is visible is small…As the moon moves in its orbit around Earth, this patch of darkness sweeps across Earth’s surface, and only people within this “path of totality” get to witness the total eclipse. (Lunar eclipses, in contrast, can be seen from anywhere on the side of Earth that’s facing the moon, as the moon passes through Earth’s shadow…).”

This solar eclipse, also called the Great American Solar Eclipse, will travel directly across a proposed path that extends from Oregon to South Carolina, where it should pass through twelve different states in total. As written by the Washington Post, “only 4 percent of the population [of the United States] lives within the path of Monday’s total solar eclipse…The moon’s shadow will carve a 70-mile-wide path encompassing some 173,000 square miles, or about 111 million acres. From coast to coast, it will travel 2,480 miles.”

Although just a small fraction of the people in the United States will be able to watch the solar eclipse move from place to place through its “path of totality”, that does not mean the rest of the country will miss out on an extraordinary experience. NBC News stated that “People outside the path of totality can see a partial eclipse, with the moon covering only a portion of the sun’s disk.”

In the case of Northwest Arkansas, 40/29 News of Fort Smith and Fayetteville states that residents will be able to view the eclipse with about the 90-92 percent clear visibility. The peak time to view the eclipse in the area will be at about 1:12 p.m. local time on that Monday.

Regarding the aspects of the growth and spread of the popularity and prominence the news of the solar eclipse, Michael Zeiler, the manager of the greatamericaneclipse.com website, reported that the estimate for the total expected visitors to observe the solar eclipse along the “path of totality” could be from 1.85 million to 7.4 million people.

This anticipated solar eclipse holds considerable significance for many living in the United States as no other solar eclipse has been discernible across all of the contiguous 48 states since the last one almost 40 years ago on February 26, 1979.

The well-known astronomical event also presents an exciting opportunity for scientists as they will be able to take record of the solar eclipse more easily and more accurately. “Because this eclipse will move across thousands of miles of mostly inhabited landscapes, rather than hard-to-reach wilderness or open seas, it will be within sight of scientists for almost the duration of totality. That means that researchers positioned at various locations along the path of totality can film the event and piece their clips together to create an unprecedented 90-minute video of the corona in action,” stated the Washington Post.

For all viewers and potential viewers of the solar eclipse, however, one point to note and remember is that of safety while looking at the total or partial eclipse. The Washington Post reported, “If you attempt to look at the eclipse without protective lenses, you risk severe damage to your eyes. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can literally give your eyeballs a sunburn.” The solution to this risk of eye damage during a solar eclipse is certain solar eclipse glasses or solar filters distributed by many public organizations, libraries, and museums.

Altogether, this astronomical event will produce exciting and memorable times for much of the country and local area, bringing many families and friends together to observe an intriguing, short period of darkness and leaving them in thorough amazement through the experience. For many, it will be the first time to observe a passing solar eclipse as special as this. As Zeiler states it, “It is Nature’s grandest spectacle. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. You will just be astounded.”

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