The great total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, is just under a month away. Those who have any interest at all, surely are eagerly anticipating this long-awaited event. After all, it has been 99 years since a total solar eclipse has crossed the United States, from "sea to shining sea."
A total solar eclipse has been described as the most awesome astronomical event to be witnessed by the unaided eye.
I have to confess that I have never had the opportunity to view a total event, when the Moon completely covers the face-of the Sun. I have read much about them and people have shared their experiences with me, including my very own mother who observed the total eclipse in our hometown of Honesdale, Pa., in 1925.
(P.S. I'd love to hear of your experiences!)
Many eclipse enthusiasts have traveled the seven seas to catch a total solar eclipse. Tours are arranged and well advertised, for sea, land and air adventures to catch the fleeting minutes of the Moon blocking out the Sun.
This time, Americans don't have to travel nearly as far, and of course, millions don't have to go anywhere at all- the eclipse is coming to them, on a track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.
Is a total solar eclipse the most incredible sight in the heavens to behold with eyes alone? I need to see one to be able to truthfully rate, but I can clearly imagine it is in the TOP FOUR.
Here is my list to consider, not in any special order.
- Total solar eclipse
- Aurora Borealis
- Meteor storms
- The starry sky ... as it is meant to be seen.
Total solar eclipses, viewed from anywhere near your home, are exceedingly rare.
- The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are also extremely rare, especially excellent displays. Although common around the poles, for mid-northern latitudes and even closer to the equator, a good aurora is hardly ever seen. A spectacle of vivid colors, I recall watching vast curtains, arcs and rays of light, in green, red and white, shifting and pulsating, spreading in front of the starry night. It was incredible.
Auroras are triggered by outbursts of particles from the Sun, which sweep past the Earth and interact with our magnetic field. Solar activity varies in cycles, and it has been several years since there was a chance for a good auroral display.
- Meteor showers are thrilling to see; in most, under good conditions you may see a meteor dart across the sky every minute or so. Each one is startling! But have you ever seen a meteor storm? These are extremely unusual. On historic occasions, there have been outbursts of meteors raining down at a rate of several thousand an hour. The sky is literally filled.
There was a time, before the science was understood, that the masses thought a total solar eclipse, the aurora, and a meteor storm, were signs of the end of the world. The normally calm Leonid meteor shower, seen in November, exploded in 1833, 1866, 1966 and in lesser but still major outbursts in other years. I recall watching the 2000 event, when hundreds of meteors shot across the sky, early one morning.
- The starry sky ... as it is meant to be seen- was at one time the norm. Growing air and light pollution levels have robbed most Americans from the chance to see a truly dark, clear sky, studded with stars and the Milky Way Band glowing bright. The compromised skies we typically have in suburban areas where you can barely do more than trace the brighter constellations, is nothing compared to what is in store if you travel to a truly remote, dark site.
I haven't even mentioned truly large and bright comets.
I must suspect, however, that a total solar eclipse is in first place. Can you imagine the eerie changes in nature as a deep twilight falls in the middle of the day, with the bright stars and planets appearing, and the Sun's astonishing coronal glow surrounding the black circle of the Moon?
If clouds and your circumstances permit, hopefully you will have the chance to experience it soon.
And you thought the TV or computer were all you needed for a good show.
Send me your thoughts and report concerning the eclipse!
New moon is on July 23; the next new moon is on eclipse day!
Keep looking up!
Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.