November 20, 2017

Eclipse Countdown – A Remarkable Event Approaches

School Kids Shades, Courtesy of Mark Margolis

Will the weather hold?  This question is uppermost in the mind of the vast number of individuals who are poised to realign themselves along the 70-mile swath of the Solar Eclipse, from Oregon to South Carolina, on August 21, 2017.   Eclipse watchers, scientists, astronomers and others have selected a location, obtained transportation, accommodations, photographic equipment, special glasses and more, years ago.  But then, there are others- “Johnny come latelys”, looking for a last minute chance to experience this amazing event.  Open spaces from farms to vacant lots to small towns, often overlooked, have become the place to be.

Eclipse Map, Courtesy of NASA

Chicago Splash Magazine journalists chose to attend the celebration in Goreville, Illinois.  Activities at this location have been organized by  the Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois, Champaign- Urbana.  Leslie W Looney, Director – Laboratory for Astronomical Imaging, Professor of Astronomy  has an amazing video that is sure to heighten your interest in this Eclipse.

 

Sharing his enthusiasm, Professor Looney, was kind enough to answer a few question about the Eclipse.

Illinois Event, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Zeiler

1.  What impacts you most at a personal level when viewing an eclipse?

Physically it is an amazing combination of eerie weird darkness, a small temperature drop, the strange quiet, and the immense beauty of the solar corona that are larger than their individual parts.   The feeling is indescribable— it grabs you by the heart in a fundamental way.  Intellectually, I am profoundly moved by our connection to the Universe.   The movement of the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon are connected on a fundamental level to the origin of our Solar System nearly 5 billion years ago.   Standing in the shadow of the Moon!   It is an affirmation of my life of an astronomer and of the connections to the Universe and my desire to better understand star and planet formation.

–       What has been your experience viewing previous eclipses?

I saw one in 1998 in Munich Germany only.   I never thought about traveling to an eclipse before.   They seemed cool, but not worth the effort.  It gets dark— big deal.  But that eclipse was so amazing that it moved me to want to see more.   Being an astronomer with a family, I never had a good opportunity to see another one until now.    I am so excited about Aug 21st.   I hope the weather cooperates.

2.  In what way are astronomers throughout the country/world working together to cull information about this Eclipse.

Although Solar Astronomers will be learning about the corona with this eclipse and the Google Megamovie Project will probably make great strides in capturing how the corona changes with time (thus the magnetic field of Sun), most of us are really trying to share the amazing experience with the public.   Astronomy is a fundamental science— understanding the Universe helps us understand more about ourselves.  The eclipse is a way to connect with the general public and reinforce the idea that it is important to stop looking at our phones and sometimes look up and enjoy the Universe and our place in it.

 

Sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed Sun. Credit: Courtesy Mark Margolis / Rainbow Symphony

3. Is there anything about this particular Eclipse that is special or unusual?

Although total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth every 18 months or so, all total solar eclipses seem rare because only people in the path of the ~70 mile shadow can see them.   This is the first total solar eclipse in the US for nearly 40 years, and the first one visible in Illinois in 148 years.   So, it is very special to us.  The other special thing is that it will cover the entire US— from West Coast to East Coast.   That has happened only once before in the history of our country.

 

Kid Shades, Pholo: Courtesy of Mark Margolis

Also see what the Adler Planetarium is doing

Check back for reports of Eclipse observers in various places across the country.

 

 

 

 

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