There will be an epic heavenly meetup on Oct. 14, where the sun, moon and Earth will align to create an annular solar eclipse that will be visible in much of the United States.
An annular eclipse occurs when the moon blocks out the sun except for a bright, narrow ring of light that appears around the moon. San Diego County residents will see the moon block about 75% of the sun – if the skies are clear.
But wait, there’s more.
An encore performance will occur on April 8, with a slight difference: This eclipse will be total – that is, the moon will completely block out the sun.
Total solar eclipses occur because the moon is slightly closer to the Earth than during an annular eclipse. San Diego residents will see a 40% eclipse – if the skies are clear.
Where in this country can you see both eclipses in near totality?
Austin, Texas, for one – exactly where MiraCosta College Astronomy Professor Rica French attended graduate school.
“If you’ve never seen a solar eclipse – even a partial one – it’s a thing of wonder,” says French, who wants to spread the word on both events. “You can watch it on television, but you can’t replicate the real experience.”
The paths of totality of two eclipses passing over the same location (like Austin, Texas) within a year is a big deal because this occurs only about once every 400 years. If you miss these solar eclipses, there will be only three more chances in this century to see either type over North America.
If you need a bit more persuasion to get out and experience the coming eclipses, consider these facts:
- Many eclipses happen over water because about three-fourths of Earth is water, so few people get to witness total solar eclipses.
- Earth is the only planet in the solar system that can have a total solar eclipse. Other planets have moons, but they aren’t the correct size or distance.
- The moon’s orbit (not a perfect circle) about the Earth is getting larger – 4 centimeters a year. Result: Someday, the moon will be too far away to create a total solar eclipse.
Having a basic understanding of the heavens and what’s up there is important, French argues, because “ever since humans existed, we’ve been able to walk about and look up to the sky. We engage with the Earth, sun and moon every day of our lives. Knowing about their motion in the sky is important.”
In addition to Austin and San Antonio, places within the path of totality on Oct. 14 include Crater Lake National Park, Ore.; Elko, Nev.; Albuquerque; Four Corners Monument; and Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Cities within the path of totality or near-totality on April 8 include San Antonio; Little Rock, Ark.; Erie, Pa.; Poplar Bluff, Mo.; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Rochester, N.Y.; Burlington, Vt.; and Greenville, Maine.
French will have telescopes with protective filters set up near the clock tower in the middle of the MiraCosta campus for free, open-to-all viewing on Oct. 14. The annular eclipse begins at 8:08 a.m., reaches maximum coverage at 9:25 a.m., and ends at 10:52 a.m.
What about eclipse glasses?
Absolutely necessary, French emphasizes.
The sun emits hazardous ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and looking directly at a solar eclipse, even for a short time, can permanently damage the retina, cornea and/or the lens of the eye. Eclipse glasses block the harmful rays and reduce the intensity of the light.
“…whatever viewers one chooses must meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard in order to be safe,” French says. “We discovered, unfortunately, with the 2017 (solar eclipse), that many unscrupulous vendors sold fakes – mostly on Amazon, but there were other websites.”
For more info on glasses and safe viewing, visit the American Astronomical Society.
For an excellent animated explanation of eclipses, visit NationalGeographic.com.
To learn when future eclipses will occur, how they will look wherever you are, and additional info on celestial events, visit timeanddate.com. Scroll down to Sun & Moon, then click on Solar & Lunar Eclipses. Enter your location in the field at the upper right.
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