March 2017 Night Skies
Solar Eclipse 2017
We take our nearest star for granted. But come August 21, American skywatchers can revel in a rare spectacular celestial show courtesy of the special alignment of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. A swath just 70 miles across and stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will darken as a total solar eclipse sweeps across the United States. Unfortunately, here in Coal Creek Canyon the Sun will be mostly blocked out but we are just a four hour drive from the path of totality.
The last total solar eclipse in the US was February 26, 1979. August’s eclipse will be the first in time in 99 years that the special event is available to so many people from coast to coast. According to scientists, the last solar eclipse with a totality path completely within the US was in 1776. This one is special in many ways.
Special cosmic geometry is behind every total solar eclipse. The Sun is much, much larger than either the Earth and Moon but because the Moon orbits closer to Earth, it is just the right distance away to appear to be the same size as the Sun in the sky. Solar eclipses of some sort occur two to five times per year. The Moon does pass between the Earth and Sun every month marking an event we call a New Moon. But because the Moon’s orbit is inclined to Earth’s at about five degrees, most of the time the Moon’s shadow misses the Earth completely. Every few months, the shadow partially falls on Earth. During these partial solar eclipses, observers on Earth see just a bite of the Sun taken out by the Moon.
The duration of totality can last just seconds at the edge of the total eclipse path to about 2 minutes, 30 seconds near the center line. The greatest duration of the total solar eclipse occurs near the border of Kentucky and Illinois and will last for 2 minutes 40 seconds.
Just in case we somehow get clouded out, we’ll get another chance to view an eclipse in 2024. A total solar eclipse will occur for Mexico, Texas and through the northeastern U.S.
Where to go and what to expect
Among the closest places to drive for the total eclipse are:
- Scottsbluff, Nebraska: 199 miles or about 3 hours
- North Platte, Nebraska 265 miles; 3 hours 49 minutes
- Glendo, Wyoming: 202 miles; about 3 hours
- Casper, Wyoming: 278 miles; about 4 hours
A couple things to remember. The path of totality stretches across the country along a 70-mile swath centered on a line in our area that runs through Alliance, Nebraska, Glendo, Wyoming, Casper, Wyoming, Dubois, Wyoming and Jackson, Wyoming. According to many news sources, motels in the path of totality are already completely booked and if you can find a room, the cost will likely be much higher than normal.
IMPORTANT, IMPORTANT, IMPORTANT!
During totality, viewers can safely look with unaided eyes at the Sun to see the gossamer corona and solar prominences along the Sun’s limb. Here in Coal Creek Canyon, observers must always use proper eye protection in the form of solar eclipse glasses or welding lenses. Even during the maximum eclipse here in Colorado, the Sun’s brightness can cause permanent damage to your eyes. One interesting way to view the eclipse is to observe the eclipse indirectly by making a pinhole camera. Or watch the eclipse progress in the shadows cast by leaves. The leaves act as natural pinhole cameras and the effect looks amazing with dozens of little eclipse shadows cast on the ground.
What to expect If you stay here in Coal Creek Canyon
If you cannot travel to see the total eclipse, you’ll still be dazzled by the show here in the canyon. The partial eclipse starts here on August 21 at 10:22 a.m. By 1:46 p.m., the Moon will blot out 92.5 percent of the Sun. The whole eclipse ends by 3:15 p.m.