Each morning, the sun slips above the horizon, painting the sky in brilliant hues of orange and yellow. The moon appears to rise in the eastern sky, sometimes sharing the sky with the sun. Occasionally, the two cross paths in this cosmic dance, and the small moon blocks the light and heat of the much larger sun from a path of viewpoints on planet Earth.
It’s interesting that the diameters of each celestial body are distanced precisely from the Earth’s surface to allow the moon, small and trapped in Earth’s gravitational pull, to block the power of mighty Sun. The phenomenon is brief and rare — at least in populated areas. It has been 99 years since a total eclipse has crossed the entire United States.
Monday, Aug. 21, the path across North America will begin in Lincoln City, Oregon at 12:04 p.m. EDT, and the sun will be completely obscured from that city one hour, 14 minutes later.
The path continues across the continent in a southeasterly arc where the show will end near Charleston, South Carolina at 4:09 p.m. EDT.
St. Johns County is not in the approximately 70-mile wide band that will experience a total eclipse, but St. Augustine is in the path of a partial eclipse covering 89.75 percent of the sun. Only a sliver of the sun at the bottom left will remain visible at maximum local eclipse time — 2:49:07 p.m. EDT.
But Yvonne James of the Northeast Florida Astronomical Society said that 90 percent coverage will only be a dimming.
“It’s worth the drive to see the total eclipse,” James said in a phone interview. “I’ve seen a total eclipse before, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
Most members of the society will travel to where they can experience totality. James does not recommend Charleston because it’s often cloudy in South Carolina in August. She is going to St. Joseph, Missouri at the center of the totality band to experience one of the day’s longest total eclipse times — 2 minutes, 39 seconds. NASA will livestream the eclipse at eclipse2017.nasa.gov. So will many other websites and television stations.
“If you can’t go [to view the total eclipse], that could be your best bet,” James said.
The next meeting of the Northeast Florida Astronomical Society will focus on the eclipse. The meeting, free and open to the public, is scheduled Friday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Florida State College at Jacksonville Auditorium. In addition to an open question and answer discussion, telescopes will be on site to demonstrate filters used to view an eclipse.
Never look at the sun directly without proper eye protection. Since St. Johns is not in the path of a total eclipse, there will not be a time to safely view the event without eye protection. Dark sunglasses are not adequate protection. Don’t risk damaging your eyes or possible blindness. “Eclipse glasses” are available online, but check if they meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard.
According to Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, “... even at 99 percent obscuration, the Sun is still 10,000 times brighter than it would be during totality.”
Another option is to build a box pinhole projector to safely view the eclipse indirectly. For simple instructions using household items and a cardboard box, go to timeanddate.com/s/3b05.
NASA has a downloadable eclipse activity guide online at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-kit. There are several links at the bottom of the page to learn about and prepare for the eclipse.
Another website, AmericanEclipseUSA.com, is another storehouse of eclipse information. Use the downloadable cartoons to share important information with others. Click the Store button for links to purchase “Eclipses Illustrated” e-books for $2.99 each from the Kindle store, and include an option to read on any device.
Several apps are available for iOS and Android devices. One choice is Solar Eclipse Timer. It uses geolocation to calculate contact times and audible guidance, “talking” users through each phase of the eclipse. Two demo programs load contact times for practicing to photograph 10 equally spaced intervals before and after totality. Special filters are required or you may risk damaging your camera’s sensor. Quizzes and games engage children and adults alike in anticipation of eclipse day.
The next opportunity to view a solar eclipse in North America will be 2024, but the path is much farther from Florida. The northeasterly arc will cross the United States from Texas to Maine April 8.