Into the night
On Aug. 21, the world will watch the sun go away for awhile
For a little while on the afternoon of Aug. 21, a swath stretching all the way from the west to the east coast of the United States is going dark when a total solar eclipse makes its way cross country.
To get ready for it, and to help people get the most of the day, the Rev. Austin Hill and Gary Lauterbach, both of Fort Dodge, talked eclipses, coronas and totality Wednesday morning during a Lunch and Learn at Gunderson Funeral Home and Cremation Service.
“So what’s the big deal?” Hill asked. “A total eclipse is a lot more special.”
Whether an eclipse is a total eclipse or an annular eclipse depends on the distance between the earth and the moon at the time of the event, Lauterbach said.
“A total eclipse of the moon is closer,” he said. “The moon’s distance from earth ranges from 210 to 250 miles away. When the moon is further away the shadow disappears before it falls on the earth.”
While the moon always casts a shadow, precise timing is required for that to fall on the earth’s surface.
“You have to have the right circumstances,” Hill said. “That’s actually a rare thing.”
For those who experience a full solar eclipse, it offers a few minutes of unique experience during the period of totality.
“You actually see twilight in all directions,” Hill said. “In our experience, that’s usually directional.”
In addition, during the moments of totality, it gets dark.
“It almost has an apocalyptic feeling to it,” he said. “That’s also the only time you can safely look at it with the naked eye.”
The solar corona, the hot glowing gas surrounding the sun, is also visible during totality. An effect called Bailey’s Beads are visible around the rim of the moon’s disc. These are bright spots created by light moving through the moon’s mountains and craters.
Hill and Lauterbach predict that Webster County residents will experience an eclipse where a little more than 90 percent of the sun is hidden. To see the eclipse in totality, you have to travel.
“You have to be in the path of totality,” Hill said. “I know, that’s got kind of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ sound to it: Will you join me on the path of totality?”
There is only one tiny place in Iowa where the eclipse’s totality will be visible.
“It’s only about 400 acres,” Hill said. “It’s just a tiny little tip of the state.”
There are several communities in Missouri that are destinations for eclipse watchers.
“St. Joseph, Missouri, has a population of 80,000,” Lauterbach said. “They estimate it will be half a million on Aug. 21.”
Some people have thought ahead.
“There are people who got hotel reservations for this 10 years ago,” he said.
Several states are expecting their populations to rise on Aug. 21.
“Missouri is expecting 1.2 million, Tennessee 1.5 million, and South Carolina is braced for 2 million,” Lauterbach said.
To view the solar eclipse safely, the pair offered several suggestions.
“You can buy special eclipse glasses,” Hill said. “They darken everything so you can look at it.”
Another method is to punch a small pin hole in a piece of cardboard. This will project an image of the eclipse onto another surface for safe viewing.
Lauterbach also demonstrated a technique using two polarizing filters. They are rotated against each other and, eventually, produce a completely opaque filter.
One thing you don’t want to do is try it through sunglasses, exposed photographic film or some other makeshift filter.
“Standard sunglasses are not safe,” Lauterbach said. “If you do that you’re going to be seeing the eye doctor the next day.”
Welding helmets are another option sometimes employed to view an eclipse; the required filter is a No. 14.
While the exact time, location and duration of the event can be and has been calculated down to the fraction of a second, the wildcard known as the weather is difficult to predict that far in advance.
“It’s a 50-50 bet on whether there’s a cloud in the way or not,” Hill said.
Hill will be traveling to watch the eclipse with his father, a physicist. Lauterbach will be in one of two places depending on the weather forecast.
“I’m going to either Grand Island in Nebraska or Carrollton in Missouri,” he said. “Trains Magazine has a photo contest called ‘Eclipse With Train.’ I’m going to where the trains are and wait for the eclipse to occur.”
The pair recommend simply watching it and enjoying the experience.
“You don’t want to be fiddling with your camera and miss it,” Lauterbach said.
There are several other viewing options. At NASA.gov a livestream of the event will be broadcast, including the view from several satellites.
For detailed maps and charts, as well as times, the pair recommend the website www.greatamericaneclipse.com.
The eclipse will begin around 11 a.m. in Fort Dodge and end about 2:30 p.m. The peak is expected at 1:22 p.m.