On Monday, August 21st, the state of Missouri will get to experience something the Show-Me State hasn’t seen in nearly a century and a half, a solar eclipse.
Scotland County lies just outside the approximately 70-mile swath the total eclipse will travel across Missouri, entering the state near St. Joseph, crossing Columbia and Jefferson City before hitting Farmington and Cape Girardeau as the phenomenon travels west to east across the United States.
NASA predicts the lunar shadows will start in Oregon at 9:05 a.m. PDT before it exits the U.S. in South Carolina after 4 p.m. EDT. In the middle, Hopkinsville, KE will view the greatest eclipse, at the point where the sun, moon and earth line up the most precisely.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, this will be the first time since August 7, 1869 (148 years ago) a total solar eclipse will be witnessed in Missouri, and that one only crossed the northeast corner of the state.
The last total eclipse in the United States was viewed February 26, 1979, with the last total eclipse to cross the entire U.S. dating back to June 8, 1918, according to NASA.
“This is the first eclipse in almost 100 years that’s covering the entire country and that’s going to be a game changer for eclipse science – both for studying the sun and what’s happening here on Earth,” said Alex Young, Solar Scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The national space agency explains that a total solar eclipse happens when the sun, moon and Earth are perfectly aligned, so that the moon blocks all the sun’s light to part of Earth’s surface.
“Total solar eclipses are only possible on Earth because of a celestial coincidence: The moon and the sun both appear to be about the same size from our vantage point on the ground,” explains the NASA press kit. “The sun is about 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also about 400 times farther away. That geometry means that when they line up just right, the moon blocks the sun’s entire surface, creating a total solar eclipse.”
The geometry plays out even further through the two concentric cones that form the moon’s shadow as it passes between the Earth and the sun.
The penumbra is the moon’s faint outer shadow. Observers in the penumbra experience a partial solar eclipse, because the sun is only partially blocked by the moon from their perspective.
The umbra is the moon’s dark inner shadow. Observers in the umbra see a total solar eclipse. The path of the umbra across Earth’s surface, called the path of totality, usually stretches for about 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers), though it is only about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide.
It is within this umbra where a total eclipse can be observed. While Scotland County falls just outside the umbra’s path, NASA predicts that Memphis and the surrounding towns in adjoining counties will experience up to 97% obstruction of the sun, beginning around 11:45 a.m. and lasting until after 2:30 p.m. with the highest level of obstruction expected to occur between 1:10 – 1:15 p.m.
“The hair on the back of your neck is going to stand up and you are going to feel different things as the eclipse reaches totality,” said Brian Carlstrom, Deputy Associate Director of the National Park Service Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate. “It’s been described as peaceful, spiritual, exhilarating, shocking. If you’re feeling these things, don’t worry, you’re experiencing the total eclipse of the sun!”
But it won’t last for long, considering the umbra will be traveling some 3,000 mph when it hits Oregon before steadily slowing down as it crosses the U.S. with an exit speed of 1,500 mph in South Carolina.
Experts estimate that more than 12 million Americans live in the path of the eclipse, but are expecting much more people to travel to the region to view the rare occasion. Missouri officials are expecting an influx of more than 1 million tourists for the event and the Missouri Department of Transportation is advising motorists to expect heavy traffic. That number may be even larger than anticipated considering the fact experiencing a solar eclipse where you live happens once every 375 years according to NASA experts.
“This will be like Woodstock 200 times over—but across the whole country.” said Young.
The only safe way to look directly at an uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are NOT safe for looking at the sun. It is safe to look at a total eclipse with your naked eyes, ONLY during the brief period of totality, which will last just a minute or two during the Aug. 21 eclipse.
It is NOT safe to look at the sun through the viewfinder of a camera or an unfiltered telescope. You may, however, safely look at the screen of your smart phone or digital camera focused on the eclipse, though you are unlikely to get a good view.
An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun is pinhole projection. In this method, you don’t look directly at the sun, but at a projection on a piece of paper or even the ground. For example, cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other. Do not look at your hands, but at the shadow of your hands on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse. See the appendix for ways of making projectors out of readily available materials such as a cereal box. 3-D printable pinhole projectors of each state available at: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/3dprintable-pinhole-projectors