2017-08-12 / Features

eclipse from coast to coast

By Johnny Whitfield
Courier-Times Editor


photo courtesy of NASA photo courtesy of NASA Excitement is building for what is a once-in-a-lifetime event for people in this area.

On Aug. 21, skywatchers across the country will see the moon pass directly in front of the sun. That’ll mark the first time Americans have seen a total solar eclipse since 1979 and the first time since 1918 that an eclipse was visible from coast to coast in the United States.

Portions of extreme western North Carolina will experience a total eclipse of the sun. In Roxboro, the moon will block roughly 92 percent of the sun.

Astronomers, however, say a 92 percent eclipse will be difficult to notice unless you’re looking directly at the sun.

“A 92 percent eclipse is not 92 percent of the experience,” said Amy Sayle, an astronomy educator at the Morehead Planetarium. “If you really want to have a life-changing experience, you need to get in your car and go to South Carolina.”


Maleah, Alex and William Leonard are ready for their chance to view the solar eclipse as it passes through Roxboro on Aug. 21. Anyone in this area who wants to view the eclipse should wear special glasses like the one the Leonards are wearing to protect against damage from the sun’s UV light. 
Heather Leonard | Courier-Times Maleah, Alex and William Leonard are ready for their chance to view the solar eclipse as it passes through Roxboro on Aug. 21. Anyone in this area who wants to view the eclipse should wear special glasses like the one the Leonards are wearing to protect against damage from the sun’s UV light. Heather Leonard | Courier-Times The path of the total eclipse covers a 70-mile wide swath of land as it travels from Oregon through South Carolina. In South Carolina, the eclipse will be total in such major cities as Greenville, Columbia and Charleston.

According to Sayle, the moon casts two shadows, the umbra and the penumbra. Those who fall under the umbra will experience a total eclipse, in which day will turn into night, temperatures will drop and animals will act as if the day has ended and they will take up routine nighttime activities.

The penumbra is a much larger shadow. It will fall across much of the U.S. The further away from the umbra you are, the less dramatic the experience will be.


This NASA image shows the progression of the moon across the sun during a solar eclipse the entire event lasts just less than three hours. This NASA image shows the progression of the moon across the sun during a solar eclipse the entire event lasts just less than three hours. Sayle says the experience can still be fun for people who don’t want to travel to the path of the total eclipse, but the fun for those people will be in watching the sun.

“If you watch the eclipse you’ll see the moon slowly move across the sun and it kind of looks like it’s eating the sun up,” Sayle said.

The entire process takes a little less than three hours. In Roxboro, the eclipse will begin at 1:15 p.m. and the show will be over by 4:04. The peak of the eclipse will happen at 2:43 p.m. in Roxboro. Taking precautions But watching the eclipse from Roxboro will take some special doing. Looking directly at the sun without the right kind of protection for your eyes can be dangerous, according to Dr. Brad Novey with North Carolina Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat in Roxboro.

“The UV light from the sun can damage the back part of the eyes that we call the macula. That’s basically the part of the eye where the light gets focused. You can get damage even from brief glimpses of the sun,” Novey said.

Novey said that logic applies regardless of whether the sun is being eclipsed or not. “The only thing that’s different about the eclipse is that people are tempted to look at the sun,” Novey said.

People who are in the path of the total eclipse can look directly at the sun without any eye protection during about a two- or three-minute time period when the eclipse is total. For everyone else, it’s important to have a strong filter that protects the eyes from the harmful rays of the sun.

Novey says a person’s central vision tends to be affected by damage from the sun’s UV rays. Gradually, he said, that vision can return, but it could take as much as six to 12 months for that to happen and even then, there’s no guarantee that a person’s vision will return to the level it was before the damage occurred.

The eclipse is a unique phenomena because the circumstances that have to occur simultaneously don’t happen often. The sun is about 400 times larger than the moon and when an eclipse occurs the sun is 400 times farther away from the Earth than the moon, which makes the moon and the sun appear the same size. The two objects also have to align themselves directly in front of each other, Typically the moon is higher or lower in the sky than the sun and their paths simply miss each other.

Sayle, the astronomy educator, says the opportunity to learn about the solar system is enormous during a total eclipse. “It’s one thing to learn about that in a text book. I think you can get a sense of that in a partial eclipse. But seeing a partial eclipse compared to a full eclipse is like comparing the experience of kissing a man to marrying a man,” Sayle said.

If your schedule doesn’t work out to travel to western North Carolina or South Carolina to experience next week’s total eclipse, the next such event takes place April 8, 2024, but you’ll have to travel to Texas, Ohio or Maine to see it.

The next total eclipse to impact North Carolina, will bring a total eclipse through Chapel Hill and Durham. Roxboro will see a 99.55 percent total eclipse during that event. Only problem is, that doesn’t happen until May 11, 2078.

Be safe in the eclipse zone

For those who are traveling to see the total eclipse of the sun, the North Carolina Highway Patrol is expecting large crowds and they are offering tips for watching the event safely.

Before and after the eclipse:

• • Arrive early to your chosen destination
• • Expect traffic delays closer to the event’s date
• • Be patient
• • Plan alternate routes
• • Monitor traffic reports on local media/radio broadcast
• • Have food and water readily available
• • Remove vehicle from roadway if experiencing mechanical
problems
• • If you’re involved in a collision with no injuries, remove
vehicle to the shoulder and wait for authorities

During the eclipse:

• • Do not stop on the roadway
• • Refrain from parking on the shoulder or median portions of
the roadway
• • Use designated parking areas
• • Do not wear eclipse glasses while driving
• • Do not drive distracted - Park before attempting to
photograph or record the event
• • Watch for pedestrians along the roadway
• • Activate headlights

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