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Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2017

An eclipse: when day becomes dark as night

By Pam Holz | Aug 10, 2017

Nearly every year, thousands of people travel across the globe, often spending significant amounts of money, often to remote areas, just to witness a few minutes of a natural phenomenon. On August 21, I am going to find out why.

On that day, I will not be traveling around the world, let alone anywhere remote. I will be headed south to Missouri, over eight hours, round trip.

On Monday, August 21, for the first time in ages, a total solar eclipse will cut through the center of North America, passing from Oregon (local start time 9:05 a.m.) through South Carolina (local end time 4:09 p.m.). While all of North America will see at least a partial eclipse, only those in an approximate 70-mile band will view the totality.

How big a deal is this? Apparently, it’s enormous.

First, you have the rarity of the event in North America itself. While somewhere on earth, people view totality every year to every other year, the last time this continent saw it was in 1979. Unfortunately, the path hit only the northwestern states on a rather rainy, dreary day. In 1990 and ’91, the path of totality crossed the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii, respectively, but the weather did not cooperate then.

The continent will see totality again in 2024, when the path travels from Texas to Maine. For those of us in Iowa, we will miss out on the full experience again, and have a slightly less partial than this month.

Secondly, and more importantly, the experience itself is, I’ve been told, unbelievably breathtaking.

I recall, as a child and a young adult, watching two solar eclipses through homemade pinhole viewers here in the Midwest. I remember seeing the moon’s shadow moving across the sun’s light in the viewer. It was cool and obviously memorable, but worth heading out of my way to view again? Not really.

As I was doing research to offer a public program on this topic of interest, I discovered I had missed out on the singular best part of the eclipse – the totality. I had viewed a partial and an annular (where the moon doesn’t entirely cover up the sun), but never the full and absolute heart of an eclipse. Where, for a few minutes, day becomes night. When wildlife act all atwitter with the sudden change. When the temperature suddenly drops. When you can see parts of the sun not normally visible and the only time you can safely stare, without protection, directly at the sun. Finally, supposedly, the experience will hit you fully in your most primal self and leave a blazing trail in memory.

And that is what I want to see, to feel, for myself.

Thus, I will be leading my public program on this event beforehand, on August 12. At 10 a.m., in the Conservation Education Center at Marr Park, I will be discussing eclipses in general, the solar eclipse onthe 21st and what you want and need to know, as well as other exciting events in the heavens. For example, overnight on the 12th, the Perseid meteor shower will be peaking. It will be a bit washed out from the waning gibbous moon, but you still should be able to see more than the usual number of falling stars.

And maybe afterward, you too will want to travel and see what the fuss is about.

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