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  • Writer's picturePinewood News

The Magic of Darkness: Experiencing the Total Solar Eclipse of April 8th


Path of the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse. Courtesy NASA.
Path of the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse. Courtesy NASA.

By Richard Pipkin

By far the most exiting astronomical event this month is the total solar eclipse of April 8th. If you’ve never seen a total eclipse of the Sun, making the effort to see one is unbelievably rewarding. Typical comments you’ll here people make during and after a solar eclipse are “breathtaking,” “humbling,” “spiritual,” and even “life changing.” That last statement is true for many of us. An eclipse is a unique demonstration of the wonders of nature and of the universe. It’s as if you’ve witnessed magic, a true miracle of the Heavens.


Unfortunately, the April eclipse will completely miss Arizona. It will begin in the Pacific Ocean, pass through southern Mexico and reach southwest Texas around 1:27 CDT in the afternoon. From there it passes through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and then into New Brunswick, Canada at around 3:30 EDT.


The nearer you can get to the center of the eclipse path, the longer it will last. But generally, being within 20 miles or so of the center only shortens the period by a few seconds. On the very edge of the path is where the period gets very short.


So, what is it that makes a solar eclipse so special? I suppose it’s a combination of many factors: the excitement of the buildup—watching the moon through solar glasses slowly eat its way across the Sun. The surrounding landscape also takes on a strange appearance: colors and shadows become more saturated and prominent. And at last, the extraordinary sight of the so called “diamond ring” will appear in the seconds before totality, and it’s time to take off the solar glasses and watch the spectacle.


The temperature will have dropped markedly by this point. The sky will darken to a dusk-like hue and amazingly, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and Mars and a few bright stars may become visible. It’s a weird and magical sight.


Wildlife, if you’re lucky to be around some, will behave strangely: birds begin to roost; owls and other nocturnal creatures may appear. If you’re among a crowd of people, you’ll hear cheers, screams, and gasps of amazement.


During the all too brief minutes that the Moon totally covers the Sun, prominences, orange bursts of nuclear flame will appear around the edges of the disk, you’ll see the beautiful corona—a wispy cloud of atoms literally blown apart by the intense heat of the Sun into their constituent particles of protons neutrons and electrons. No photograph ever taken of a total eclipse can prepare you for this sight.


Finally, the spectacle approaches its end: the famous Bailey’s Beads appear—bright red dots at the Moon’s trailing edge. A second diamond ring appears signaling it’s time to put our solar glasses back on. By that point, many people will sob. It’s nearly impossible not to. And when it’s over, your first question may be, “When’s the next one?”


So, what if you can’t get to the totality path? The next best thing is to find a local eclipse event. Especially, check out the Great American Eclipse Party at Lowell Observatory, They will have solar telescopes you can look through to observe the Sun in real time and probably live showings from cameras along the elipse path. Also, take time to look at shadows beneath trees. The gaps between leaves often display crescent shadows of the Sun on the ground. You can get a similar effect with a kitchen colander held above a light surface. And if you have binoculars, point them towards the Sun and hold a sheet of white paper a few inches from the eyepieces to get a more pronounced effect.


Sadly, if you miss this month’s eclipse, you’ll have to wait about 20 years for the next one to appear in the United States. But if you’re fortunate enough to be able to travel, noteworthy total eclipses of the decade will occur in Spain in 2026, followed by a six-and-a-half-minute totality in north Africa in 2027, and a five-minute-long eclipse will pass across much of Australia and south New Zealand in 2028, and finally, a 2030 eclipse across Africa and Australia.


If your travels are limited to the United States, Canada, and Europe, we’ll see our longest-ever solar eclipse on August 12, 2045. It will be six minutes of totality running from Northern California across to Florida. Seven years later, Floridians will experience another event on March 30, 2052. The U.S. will experience an eclipse drought for the next 27 years and then get two eclipses within a 12-month span, on May 11, 2078, and May 1, 2079.

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