Skywatchers await rare eclipse

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Skywatchers await rare eclipseNorth Americans have an opportunity to share in a historic astronomical event Monday, Aug. 21, with the first visible solar eclipse in 38 years.

“If you have the good fortune to be along the path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, you will get to witness one of the most awe-inspiring views in nature — the wispy wonders of the solar corona,” wrote Earl Wilson in this month’s newsletter for the China Lake Astronomical Society.

According to Skywatching columnist Joe Rao on space.com, “It is a popular misconception that the phenomenon of a total eclipse of the sun is a rare occurrence. Quite the contrary. Approximately once every 18 months (on average) a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on the Earth’s surface — that’s two totalities for every three years.

“But how often is a total solar eclipse visible from a specific location on earth? That’s another story altogether.”

For those of us in North America, even a partial sighting is something most people will see only two or three times in their lives. From any given point on the globe, the statistical average of viewing a total eclipse is about once every 400 years.

“All of us who enjoy solar eclipses should be indebted to those astronomers who pioneered doing extensive calculations. Otherwise we would not know exactly where to positions ourselves for the big event.”

While many Southern Californians are traveling north to experience the total eclipse, local residents will still be able to witness about 80 percent totality.

Volunteer astronomers will set up telescopes on the grounds of the Maturango Museum on Monday, Aug. 21, during the eclipse, with a live feed of a site of totality running inside.

The eclipse begins at 9 a.m., with full coverage occurring at approximately 10:18 a.m.

Astronomers urge residents to exercise caution and follow all recommended safety guidelines during the event. “It is never safe to look directly at the sun’s rays — even if the sun is partly obscured,” said a NASA spokesperson.

“When watching a partial eclipse you must wear eclipse glasses at all times if you want to face the sun, or use an alternate indirect method. This also applies during a total eclipse up until the time when the sun is completely and totally blocked.”

The museum is offering safety training, along with other eclipse-related activities, on Saturday, Aug. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We will have crafts that relate to the eclipse. We will have some displays set up that will teach kids how and where to look, and maps that track the path of the eclipse,” said Sherry Brubaker, the museum’s curator of natural history.

“But the big stress will be safety. We will show them how to make viewing cards and pinhole cameras.”

Children can show up at any time during the workshop to learn more about the eclipse, she said.

“I know most kids will be in school on the 21st, but everyone else will have a chance to watch here from one of the telescopes set up outside.”

Wilson said that he believes viewing glasses are the safest way to witness an eclipse without risking injury to the eye.

Pictured: The moon crossing in front of the sun, captured Jan. 30, 2014, by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory from its vantage point in space. -- Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2017-08-11