On Monday, Aug. 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will sweep across North America.
San Antonians and most U.S. residents will see only a partial eclipse starting at 11:40 a.m. on Monday. At 1:09 p.m., the moon will be the closest it will get to the center of the sun. About 1 1/2 hours later, it will leave the star’s edge.
And, no, you can’t look at it – not without the right sunglasses/gear, which are pretty hard to find these days. For those in the U.S. that live in or have traveled to the 70-mile wide path of totality, however, you are able to peer up during the approximately three to eight minutes, depending on where you are, that the moon completely blocks the sun. NASA will host a 360-degree livestream of the total eclipse on its Facebook page.
Eclipses happen all the time, Scobee Education Center Director Rick Varner told the Rivard Report, but usually in remote areas – the middle of the ocean, for instance. But the one on Monday will “probably be one of the most viewed,” Varner said, because of its path through hundreds of cities, which have been inundated with “eclipse chasers.”
San Antonians won’t have to wait too long to experience more eclipses. We’ll see an annular eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, during which the moon doesn’t completely block the sun because the moon is further from Earth. On April 8, 2024, we’ll be treated to a full solar eclipse that is expected to last more than five minutes.
Online and brick-and-mortar stores are largely sold out of the glasses that block harmful solar rays. There have been several reports of counterfeit products that do not actually protect the user from harm. Check out NASA’s website here for more information. Space.com has a quick tutorial on how to tell if you’ve got a fake on your face.
That’s another way in which this eclipse is unique, local space physicist Jerry Goldstein told the Rivard Report. “Unfortunately this eclipse seems to be revealing the worst elements of human nature.”
Amazon has refunded some customers who purchased potentially faulty glasses from various manufacturers, according to CNN.
“I can’t even imagine the type of person that would endanger the eyesight of children and all the people that purchased [knockoff] glasses,” said Goldstein, who is a staff scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).
SwRI itself fell victim to the scam and had to trash hundreds of glasses once they found them to be counterfeit, Goldstein said. Luckily, a colleague of his at Rice University was able to provide the nonprofit institute with hundreds of real glasses for its eclipse watch party on Monday.
Dozens of different event organizers will provide attendees free, verified glasses at eclipse day events in San Antonio (see list at the end of this story). Scobee expects to hand out more than 1,000 throughout the day.
There are some safe, do-it-yourself options such as pinhole projectors, and many people use special solar filters on their cameras, telescopes, and binoculars. Then there’s the old box-on-the-head trick that Time Magazine recently profiled.
Scientists and researchers across the U.S. will be studying the eclipse and the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies revealed by it. Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, plans to fly two modified jets in the shadow of the moon, capturing high-resolution images of the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as its corona, and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury.
“NASA is funding 11 science projects across America for scientists to take advantage of the unique astronomical event to learn more about the Sun and its effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere,” according to its news release.
Outside the path of totality, unfortunately, there’s little that can be measured, Goldstein said. “We’re looking at it, it’s super cool. Not a lot of extra stuff we can do here.”
While most researchers will be looking up, Bryan Tobias, a doctoral student in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, will be looking down.
Tobias is in Casper, Wyoming, which is almost dead center in the path of totality where the total eclipse will last two minutes and 26 seconds, according to Eclipse2017.org. He will launch a drone from a nearby mountain and stop about one mile up – or has high as he can get it – to record a video of the moon’s shadow crossing the Earth’s surface at about 2,800 miles per hour.
But along the edge of the path, in Carbondale, Illinois, for instance, the totality will last two minutes and 37 seconds – the longest totality in the states – because the shadow slows down as it travels east.
“I’m testing the math of how fast the shadow is going,” said Tobias who runs the Curtis Vaughan Jr. Observatory. The process and mathematics that have gone into timing the drone’s flight and calculating the speed alone has been a learning process for him. “We learned a little bit of everything – it’s just a cool, fun thing we’re trying to do.”
The only variable that scientists can’t quite get a good measure of, Tobias said, is the size of the sun. They predict the shadow may be half a mile or so off in some locations along the path of totality, he said, so if someone’s right on the edge – they should consider traveling inward.
The millions of people that have traveled from all over the world to be in the path of totality are overwhelming city resources. In Casper, Tobias said, there are limited menus at restaurants, and even churches have banners up advertising $20 eclipse parking.
“You almost think it’s some super rock concert,” he said. He is a member of the San Antonio League of Sidewalk Astronomers. Several members are currently in other totality cities including Columbia, Missouri.
I will be driving to Carbondale to see it all for myself – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are making the totality trek. It’s a strange and wonderful experience, Tobias said, and pictures just don’t do it justice.
“Until you see it in person, you won’t understand why people chase these things all over the world,” he said.
Back in San Antonio, Varner will be watching the energy output of the Scobee Planetarium’s solar panels, which anyone can see online here.
“It will be interesting to watch that [production] drop during the eclipse,” he said.
Essentially, total eclipses are “cosmic coincidences,” Goldstein said. The distance between the sun, moon, and Earth are exactly perfect for the moon to appear exactly the same size as the sun, which is on average more than 93 million miles away from the moon.
At least that is until the moon’s orbit takes it further away from the Earth – which it is in the process of right now “at the rate of 3.78cm (1.48in) per year, at about the same speed at which our fingernails grow,” according to an article published by the BBC. “The human race has little to fear at present. By the time any change occurred, humans might even have generated technology that could speed up the Earth’s rotation or transport us to other livable planets within our galaxy.”
Eclipses give Goldstein an eerie, “surreal” feeling, he said, it’s almost “superstitiously scary.”
“But if you’ve seen one eclipse, you’ve seen one eclipse. They’re all unique,” Goldstein said.
Eclipse Day Events in San Antonio
Southwest Research Institute
6220 Culebra Rd.
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
San Antonio College / Scobee Education Center
1819 N. Main Ave., Parking lot 21
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Our Lady of the Lake University
St. Anthony’s Courtyard
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
San Antonio Public Libraries
109 9th St., Suite 400
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
*The first 50 guests will receive eclipse glasses.
Chuy’s Blackout 2017
Chuy’s at 18008 U.S. Highway 281 North
NISD Central Office
5900 Evers Rd.
Pease Middle School
201 Hunt Lane, San Antonio, 78245
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
City of Shertz**
Crescent Bend Nature Park, 12805 W. Schafer Rd.
12:30 to 2 p.m.
**Eclipse viewing glasses will not be available.
CORRECTION: The totality city that at least one league member is traveling to is Columbia, Mo. (not Miss.).