Moon with a view [update]

On August 1, The Washington Post said it will be the most photographed and most internet-shared event in human history. Recently, Google created a map simply to chart the flood of search inquiries for this upcoming event. Even my most recent Uber driver and I had a conversation about it.

Where will you be for the total solar eclipse?

Note: In the August 10 print edition, the Lifescapes column suggests that experts recommend wearing sunglasses to view the solar eclipse on August 21. This is in error. Specially designed, solar eclipse glasses must be worn.

When I first heard about the eclipse that will occur this year on August 21, I immediately had dreams of driving to the nearest city with the best view. I would camp out. I would be one of those people uploading Instagram and Facebook posts. Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed when the moon chose a Monday. But all is not lost!

While the closest city for Illinoisans to visit for a view of the moon on its “path of totality” is Carbondale, we will still be able to glimpse a 90% view of the show.

So, what exactly is a total solar eclipse?

Here are the facts: in a total solar eclipse, the moon passes in between the sun and the earth, shielding the light of the sun. As the moon passes in front of the sun, the moon’s umbral (inner) and penumbral (outer) shadows cross the earth’s surface. This time lapse can last for up to a few hours, but the “total” eclipse – when the moon blocks the sun completely – only lasts about two minutes. Some say the temperature rapidly drops and the world goes dark right in the middle of the day.

According to NASA, the eclipse begins in Lincoln Beach, Oregon, at 9:05 a.m. PDT, becoming a total eclipse at 10:16 a.m. PDT. It ends in Charleston, South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT.

When can we see it?

In Illinois, our best chance at catching the moon will be between 11:52 a.m. and 2:47 p.m. CST, depending on your location. (See chart). An interesting bit of advice I saw on the NASA website: don’t look directly into the sun! While the moon will partially block the sun (or totally block it, for the geographically lucky ones), the sun can still cause eye damage. Experts recommend wearing specially designed, solar eclipse sunglasses as you watch the events unfold.

But the eclipse, as awe-inspiring as it might be, isn’t completely rare. The last time the earth saw one was 1979, and our next opportunity will be in 2024 (hopefully on a weekend!).

What I love most about the upcoming celestial event is that it’s something in which we can all participate. This year, the eclipse will be visible in some capacity in North America and many locations in South America, Europe, and Africa. We can all bond over seeing one of nature’s performances, even if our views and experiences from that day differ. In the future, we will probably remember exactly where we were.

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