Solar eclipses used to be mysterious, ominous events that befuddled and frightened human beings and caused animals to think nighttime had arrived.
A lot of animals will still think it’s time for bed or breakfast, but the Great Solar Eclipse of 2017 that will sweep across America Monday afternoon will be marked in West Virginia with everything from eclipse-watching raft trips to a huge eclipse-watching party at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank.
Given how much the current state of politics has divided Americans, a spectacular solar eclipse may be just the thing to bring people together for a couple hours, said Kathryn Williamson, a teaching assistant professor in the physics and astronomy department at West Virginia University.
“That, to me, is the most exciting thing. We can all just put aside our differences and appreciate its natural beauty,” said Williamson — done safely, of course, she quickly added.
Across West Virginia, the eclipse will last roughly three hours, from about 1 to 4 p.m., and will be seen only partially in the state, as the moon’s shape covers up about 85 to 90 percent of the sun’s disc.
In Charleston, the moon will start nicking into the sun at 1:08 p.m. It will achieve its maximum coverage of about 90 percent at 2:35 p.m. and the eclipse will end at 3:57 p.m. (To find exact times for your locality, visit www.timeanddate.com/eclipse.)
The eclipse should only be viewed directly with eclipse-watching glasses or viewing cards approved by the American Astronomical Society and NASA. Both groups have urged that watchers view the eclipse only in glasses engineered by reputable vendors that carry the international safety standard number “ISO 12312-2.” The AAS has revised some of its safety advice to the public and says it is no longer sufficient to look for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) logo on eclipse glasses and filters.
The AAS has updated the list of companies whose products are known to conform to ISO standards. This list includes only those manufacturers vetted by the AAS and can be found at eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.
Eclipse glasses made under these standards block 100,000 times more light than ordinary sunglasses no matter how dark regular sunglasses are (which should never be used to view the eclipse). Even brief, unprotected glimpses of the sun can cause blurry vision or blindness. The AAS has spotted counterfeit eclipse glasses on Amazon in the past and the online marketplace recently ordered a recall of all glasses sold on the website that don’t meet such a standard.
Customers with concerns should watch their email inbox, as Amazon sent emails to people who bought unvalidated glasses. Those who did not receive an email should be safe and clear to use their Amazon-ordered glasses, the company has said.
A solar eclipse takes place when the moon passes exactly between the sun and the earth. The moon’s orbit is normally tilted about five degrees from the orbit of the earth around the sun. It’s when the moon lines up with the earth’s orbit around the sun that a solar eclipse occurs. (If you miss Monday’s eclipse, you’ll have to wait until April 8, 2024 for a solar eclipse of similar magnitude that cuts across the continental United States.)
The path of totality — meaning the narrow band of America that will see a total solar eclipse — will stretch in a tight band across 14 states, from, Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina.
The full solar eclipse will make visible the otherwise-hidden solar corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere, as a NASA eclipse fact sheet points out. Bright stars and planets will become visible and birds will fly to their nighttime roosts, while nocturnal insects such as cicadas and crickets will buzz and chirp. Those reactions from the animal world will likely not take place in West Virginia, since some sunlight will still peek out around the moon, according to a NASA spokesman.
Yet even though West Virginia is about five hours north of the path of totality, the shadow that will fall across the state from a partial solar eclipse still will be impressive, said Williamson.
“It’s going to be a pretty great partial eclipse. The moon is going to be covering the sun by up to 90 percent, so that’s most of the way, right?” she said. “Even though we’re not along the path of totality, we’re still going to have a great view.”
If you are not able to obtain solar eclipse glasses, the American Astronomical Society has details online (at eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/projection) on how to safely view an image of the eclipse though pinhole projection. The site notes:
“You simply pass sunlight through a small opening [for example, a hole punched in an index card] and project an image of the Sun onto a nearby surface [for example, another card, a wall, or the ground] ... Note that pinhole projection does NOT mean looking at the Sun through a pinhole! You project sunlight through the hole onto a surface and look at the solar image on the surface.”
For those who want to bone up on the eclipse before it happens, WVU will host a pre-eclipse event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy (White Hall). Participants will receive “passports” that take them on a self-guided learning tour of mini-lectures, hands-on activities, planetarium shows, and rooftop observing.
“If the weather is good, we’ll have telescope and sun spotters outside for viewing the sun and handing out eclipse glasses for free,” said Williamson.
Those in attendance will be schooled in how to watch the eclipse and what to know about it, she said. “Then, they can take their eclipse glasses home and be with their families and communities during the eclipse on Monday.”
Free solar eclipse viewing glasses and free Moon Pies will be handed out at a Marshall University’s viewing event on Monday, as Marshall’s College of Science, Student Affairs groups and West Virginia Science Adventures sponsor a viewing program, set for 1:07 p.m. to 3:56 p.m. at Buskirk Field on the Marshall campus. Peak viewing time is expected to be at 2:34 p.m. A telescope view of the eclipse will be projected onto a big screen, and space-themed music and science facts will be included.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank will host a free eclipse-viewing gathering on Monday that will start after 9:30 a.m. with hands-on activities, and a Q-and-A with an observatory astronomer and then move to a viewing field. Eclipse glasses are available for $2 apiece and they have a stock of about 1,200 of them.
The eclipse will also be projected, using telescopes, onto a surface, which will display the progress of the eclipse via the shadow it casts.
Even if cloud cover obscures the eclipse at Green Bank, there will be a live streaming video feed from NASA facilities and elsewhere showcasing the event, said Sue Ann Heatherly, the observatory’s Senior Education Officer. “So, we are going to have an eclipse party no matter what.”
If you want to view the eclipse in a more adventurous fashion, Adventures on the Gorge is offered a 2-for-1 special on river rafting and zip-lining on Monday in the New River Gorge.
Prices for two people that day are $69 at TimberTrek Adventure Park, $99 on the TreeTops Zipline Canopy Tour, $109 on Gravity Zip Lines, $149 on the Upper New River rafting and $149 on the Lower New River rafting. Prices are per couple and do not include tax, fees and gratuity. The cost does include certified eclipse glasses. Call call 855-379-8738 for more information.
“We do have a good amount of bookings,” said Jay Young, digital marketing manager for Adventures on the Gorge. “I’m very much a science buff myself. I love everything about it. To be able to offer this kind of deal for this sort of event is kind of special to me personally.”
Meanwhile, students from Mountaineer Montessori School will fill up the University of Charleston’s Triana Field annex for an eclipse viewing gathering on Monday. It’s the culmination of a series of eclipse-related astronomy projects and seminars.
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Here is a NASA guide to safely watching the eclipse: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety
For a scientifically grounded site on eclipses, eclipse glasses, projects, eclipse-watching events and more, visit the American Astronomical Society’s site: eclipse.aas.org/
For maps, animations and a whole lot of background on eclipses, visit www.greatamericaneclipse.com.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at email@example.com, 304-348-3017 or follow @douglaseye on Twitter.