Area residents have 'rare' chance to see eclipse

August 11, 2017 12:04:30 PM

Alex Holloway - [email protected]


In 10 days, people across the United States can see an astronomical event that's been nearly 100 years coming. 


On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will cross from the Pacific coast to the east coast for the first time since 1918. The "Great American Eclipse," as it's colloquially called, will cross from Oregon to South Carolina in the span of about 90 minutes. 


The Golden Triangle won't be in the path of totality -- the area where the moon fully covers the sun -- but locals can still see a very deep partial eclipse. 


"For Starkville, specifically, we will see about 89 percent coverage of the sun, which will happen just before 1:30 p.m.," said Mississippi State University Associate Professor of Astronomy Donna Pierce. "It will essentially be the same in Columbus." 


Pierce said the moon will start encroaching on the sun around noon, and the eclipse will finish by about 3 p.m. The deepest part of the eclipse will occur at 1:27 p.m., she said, and will only last for about two minutes. 


Solar eclipses happen when the moon passes between the earth and the sun in such a way that its shadow falls onto the earth. Any place within the umbra -- the deepest part of the moon's shadow -- will see a total solar eclipse. Places within the penumbra -- the moon's partial shadow -- will see a partial eclipse. 


Pierce said that eclipses are rare in any one particular area, and that makes them exciting events. 


"There's only a handful. Maybe three or four solar eclipses total happen in a year," she said. "But, for one specific location on earth, it may be hundreds of years between events. That's due to a variety of factors -- the small size of the moon's shadow, the distance of the moon and the inclination of its orbit around the earth are all factors that dictate that rarity. 


The Eclipse of June 8, 1918's path of totality passed through central Mississippi, according to NASA. 


Another solar eclipse will pass through the United States, from Mexico and to Texas and Arkansas, through the Northeast and Canada, on April 8, 2024. The path of totality will not cross the Golden Triangle, but should lead to another partial eclipse for the area. 


The next eclipse that will put the Golden Triangle, and much of north Mississippi, in the path of totality will happen on Aug. 12, 2045. 






While the moon will cover most of the sun during the eclipse, MSU Associate Professor of Astronomy Angelle Tanner said it's important for viewers to wear special solar eclipse glasses to protect their eyes. 


"It's only during the total eclipse portion that it's safe to take of glasses," she said. "Even if the sun is 99 percent covered, you still need to wear glasses because that 1 percent is still enough to do irreparable damage to your eyes." 


The American Astronomical Society (AAS) recommends using solar viewers from reputable vendors, such as American Paper Optics, APM Telescopes, Baader Planetarium, Celestron, DayStar, Explore Scientific, Lunt Solar Systems, Meade Instruments, Rainbow Symphony, Seymour Solar, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17. 


Glasses certified for safe viewing should note they meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard, according to the AAS. 


Tanner said Lowe's sells eclipse glasses that are safe for use. 


"I tested them and they do block enough light," she said. "There's been some counterfeit ones out there, so I bought the ones at Lowe's and tested them to make sure they were similar to the ones I bought from a reputable vendor." 


Viewers can also use No. 14 welding glasses to safely view an eclipse, or a pinhole projection, which uses an object with small holes to safely project the light from the eclipse onto a surface for safe viewing