Forecast for Monday: Sunny with 69 Percent Darkness

Partial eclipse will arrive in Highlands at 1:23 p.m.

By Michael Turton

The solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, will be viewed by an estimated half-billion people, but the celestial spectacle will have a distinctly American flavor as it passes from coast to coast. The 70-mile-wide path of totality — the area that will experience a total eclipse and mid-day darkness — will take place exclusively along a line from Oregon to South Carolina.

In a NASA map showing the path of the Aug. 21 eclipse, the gray ribbon marks the totality. (Click to enlarge.)

This eclipse is of particular interest to scientists. It’s also a tourism bonanza. As many as 7.4 million Americans are expected to travel to experience it.

Oregon began promoting itself as an eclipse destination in 2014 and Amtrak quickly filled its $135 roundtrip Eclipse Express from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois. Hotels in Charleston, South Carolina, which lies in the path of the totality, sold out months ago.

A Viewer’s Guide to The (Near) Totality

When is the solar eclipse?
It will begin in the Highlands at 1:23 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21, and peak at 2:44 p.m. when the moon blocks 69 percent of the sun, according to data from the U.S. Naval Observatory. It will continue for 2 hours and 36 minutes and end here at 3:59 p.m. It is the first total eclipse since 1918 to traverse the entire country.

The Topeka State Journal, June 8, 1918 (nationaleclipse.com)

What if I miss it?
The next total solar eclipse to pass over the Highlands will take place on Monday, April 8, 2024, when at 3:25 p.m. the moon will block 93 percent of the sun. You will only need to drive 220 miles to Syracuse to see 100 percent coverage, rather than 600 miles to South Carolina.

The dark pink ribbon represents the totality predicted for an eclipse that will take place in April 2024. The light pink stripe, which includes the Highlands, will reach
93 percent.

How can I look at it?
You should not look at the solar eclipse without serious eye protection. Drug World of Cold Spring has a supply of eclipse glasses certified by the International Organization for Standardization to block all but 1/100,000th of the sun’s light. The welder’s mask in the basement won’t keep you safe, either. Even though there will only be 69 percent coverage in the Highlands, you should never remove the glasses while looking at the eclipse.

Where can I watch?

At 1:30 p.m., the Butterfield Library in Cold Spring will host an eclipse-viewing party for students, including science experiments and snacks. Register at butterfieldlibrary.org or call 845-265-3040.

The Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison will have a live stream from NASA Television, with images captured by 11 spacecraft and 50 high-altitude balloons. The library also has 20 pairs of eclipse-viewing glasses to share.

The moon crossed in front of the sun on Jan. 30, 2014, during an eclipse captured in space by an orbiting observatory. (NASA)

A viewing at Putnam Valley Town Park will provide eclipse glasses. On Saturday, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m., at the Putnam Valley Library, a science teacher will present a family program on solar and lunar eclipses.

During the eclipse, members of the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association and the Physics and Astronomy Department of SUNY-New Paltz will have telescopes at the Coykendall Science Building at 1 Hawk Drive with solar filters and solar glasses to safely view the eclipse. If you bring a shoebox, you can learn how to make a pin-hole camera to project the image of the eclipse.

Hudson Valley Hikers will ascend Mount Beacon at 12:15 p.m. sharp from the parking lot at 788 Wolcott Ave. See meetup.com. It will be a fast climb not suitable for beginners.

John McGrath, his wife Maureen and their teenagers, Mae and Graeme, are among the Highlands residents headed south to experience the total eclipse. They will watch it unfold from a park in Columbia, South Carolina.

John is enthusiastic about the trip, said Maureen. Her teenagers, by contrast, “are more like, ‘Why are we doing this?,’ ” she said.

An eclipse captured in January 2011 from space by the Hinode satellite (NASA)

Why all the fuss? A solar eclipse is pretty basic. The moon’s orbit will bring it between the sun and Earth. According to NASA, the moon will totally block the sun for as long as 2 minutes, 40 seconds, depending on where you are along the Oregon to South Carolina “path of totality,” where the eclipse is full. That’s no mean feat given that the moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun.

Part of the fascination is due to its infrequency. A total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. about as often as the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. There hasn’t been a coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the U.S. since 1918. A 1979 total solar eclipse affected only the northwest part of the country.

Remembering the Eclipse of ’63

By Michael Turton

On July 20, 1963, a total solar eclipse cast its shadow diagonally across Alaska, five Canadian territories and provinces and the heart of Maine before exiting North America over southern Nova Scotia.

I experienced the eclipse as a 13-year-old, standing in the backyard of our family home in Oldcastle, Ontario, just south of Detroit. Although I was standing 640 miles southwest of the totality, it remains one of the most memorable events of my life.

My dad had borrowed a welder’s mask for safe viewing (which is not recommended, as most are not dark enough to protect your eyes). The bright midafternoon light weakened dramatically as the eclipse progressed. It was as though someone had slowly lowered a dimmer switch on the sun.

Everything within sight was bathed in a beautiful, dusky-golden hue, a quality of light I’ve never seen since. It became still. No bird sounds. No one spoke. I felt a mix of emotions. Anticipation. Excitement. Disbelief. Fascination. Fear. Joy. Awe.

While the Highlands is 770 miles from the path of the totality on Aug. 21, I’m hoping for a repeat.

For scientists an eclipse means hard work. While a total solar eclipse is visible somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, many are difficult to study because they occur in remote areas or during bad weather.

What is being called “The Great American Eclipse” will take place over a lot of easily accessible land, enabling the Citizen Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Project to position 68 telescopes along its path.

A white-light image of the solar corona during totality (NASA)

Much of the scientific attention will be focused on the inner corona, part of the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun. The corona, which can only be observed during a total solar eclipse, is where solar winds and “space weather” powerful enough to knock out power grids originate.