By Steve Rogers
At 10:20 am on the 21st of August, Hidden Meadows residents will witness a partial eclipse of the sun. For approximately two minutes, almost two thirds of the sun will be blocked by the moon. A thousand miles to our north, observers will be witnessing a total eclipse, with the moon completely obscuring the sun.
Seeing a solar eclipse from land is a rare and exciting event. In theory, there could be an eclipse every 28 days if the path of the new moon moves between the earth and the sun. However, because the orbit of the moon rises above or below a line drawn through the centers of the earth and the sun by up to five degrees, the three heavenly bodies only line up once or twice a year. Most of the time the shadow of the moon falls on the open ocean where nobody is around to see it.
What’s even more exciting about this eclipse is that the United States is going to be on what astronomers call the “path of totality.” In a span of 90 minutes, the shadow of the moon will race across the United States at over two thousand miles an hour, turning day into night in parts of fourteen states from Oregon to South Carolina. It has been 40 years since the United States has been on the path of totality, and not since 1918 have so many states been in position to see the total eclipse.
It is just a happy coincidence of nature that the size of the moon is just the right size to block out the diameter of the sun. Were the moon smaller or were the sun closer, a total eclipse would look like a donut hole moving across the face of the sun, but as it happens, the diameter of the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but because it is also 400 time closer to the earth, the relative sizes are just right to totally block the sun. A total eclipse is the only time we can see the corona of the sun as wispy tendrils shooting out millions of miles from the surface of the sun. During the total eclipse of 1919, scientists were able to show that the position of the stars were shifted by the gravity of the Sun proving an important part of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity as shown in the movie “Einstein and Eddington”.
For those of you thinking about going outside to observe the eclipse with your own eyes, remember what you were taught in school — never look directly at the sun, even during a partial eclipse, as you could suffer permanent eye damage. Instead you can see a good image of what’s going on up in the sky by poking a pinhole into a piece of card stock and using that to project an image onto another white surface. If you happen to be standing near a tree, you may see thousands of images of the sun projected onto the ground by the tiny gaps between the leaves acting just like the camera obscura made with your piece of cardboard.
For more information, go to the website GreatAmericanEclipse.com and be sure to watch for exciting photographs and videos on the internet after the 21st.