Solar eclipse fever has taken over the U.S., and residents here are gearing up for the phenomenon, too, with a handful of residents making plans to travel to Wyoming, Nebraska or Oregon to see the total eclipse. Next Monday, Aug. 21, all of North America will be able to see a partial solar eclipse, and those lucky enough to be in the path of totality, a thin, 70-mile wide ribbon that will pass through 14 states, will see a total solar eclipse.
The path of totality begins in Salem, Ore., around 10 a.m. PST. Over the next hour and a half, it will cross through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and then will end near Charleston, S.C., around 2:45 p.m. EDT. It is the only solar eclipse in this country's history to be seen from coast to coast. Everyone in the contiguous U.S., plus people in parts of South America, Africa and Europe will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. The entire event will last less than two hours. The longest duration of complete darkness will be near Carbondale, Ill., where the sun will be completely covered for about two minutes and 40 seconds.
"This is a really exciting event," said Brenda Harvey of Delta, a volunteer solar system ambassador for NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratories. She gave a presentation to a packed room at the Cedaredge Library last weekend.
For Grand Junction, the eclipse begins at 10:17 a.m., maxes at 87 percent at 11:40 a.m., and ends at 1:07 p.m. Denver Channel 7 and Colorado National Public Radio report the eclipse will be at 85 percent in Montrose, so that would appear to put Delta in the 86 percent range.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon casts a shadow on the Earth, fully or partially blocking the sun's light in some areas. In the total eclipse, the moon will completely cover the sun, allowing viewers to see the sun's corona. Observers outside of the path of totality, like in Delta County, will still see a partial eclipse, where the moon covers a portion of the sun. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous U.S. in 38 years; the last one happened in 1979.
Viewers may also be able to catch a glimpse of Mars or Mercury as well, but they won't look the same as they do in the night sky, Harvey said. The eclipse will also affect the temperature, though scientists at NASA aren't sure yet how much, she said. Some estimates are that the Earth will cool as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. People across the country will be taking various data points on weather and temperature, and sending that information to NASA for further study. "Now we have such an amazing opportunity with technology, where everyone can participate instantly," Harvey said.
If you plan to watch for the eclipse, head for a clear spot with a good view of the sky. Harvey said spots on Grand Mesa will be good to view, but any clear view of the sky should work, too. She and her family plan to travel to Oregon to see the total eclipse.
You'll also want to make sure to have appropriate viewing eyewear. Sunglasses won't work. Instead, you'll need eclipse glasses. Each branch of the Delta County Libraries has a limited supply of free glasses available, or you can purchase a pair at Delta Hardware or City Market in Delta. Those who already have eclipse glasses should check for the international safety standard number "ISO 12312-2," to avoid counterfeits. It is never safe to look directly at the un-eclipsed or partially eclipsed sun. Failure to follow proper observing methods for the eclipse may result in permanent eye damage and severe vision loss.
If you miss the eclipse this year, don't worry -- save the date for April 8, 2024, when the next total solar eclipse will be visible in the U.S. You can also see live video streams of this eclipse online at www.nasa.gov/eclipselive.
Harvey's volunteer work with NASA began in January of this year when she was accepted as just one of 30 people nationwide for the prestigious volunteer ambassador program; she is just one of two people on the Western Slope involved in the program. Her role is to do community outreach and explain to the local community what NASA is working on. "NASA does more than just space," she explained. The organization also studies weather patterns, oceanography, pest control methods, and other scientific research projects. Being accepted to the program was almost as exciting as seeing her grandson born, she joked.
Harvey is available to speak at school groups, book clubs or civic organizations about the NASA program. She can be reached at 970-901-4128.