Solar Eclipse of the Century

August 21 2017
Category: Events

Today, Monday, August 21, millions of people across the United States will look to the sky for the first total eclipse since 1979. This is one of the most exciting astronomical events and to learn more we checked in with Dr. Charlie Jacobson, Associate Professor of Mathematics.

We keep hearing the phrase “path of totality” on the news. What does that mean?
Because of the motion of the Earth around the Sun, and the Moon's motion around the Earth, solar eclipses, as a rule, occur every few years somewhere on the planet. What makes this eclipse special is its coverage; no total eclipse in the U.S. has gone from coast to coast in almost one hundred years. And this will be a total solar eclipse for anyone who finds themselves within 70 miles of the path of totality from Corvalis, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. For most of these locations, the total eclipse itself will last about two to three minutes, with the accompanying partial eclipse lasting between two and three hours.

What will people see on the path of totality?
For people in the path of totality, the sky will darken, and they will be able to see some of the brighter stars and planets in the day sky. Animals will be affected; in particular, birds will often commence their evening songs. But the most dramatic sight will be the glow of the Sun's corona, its atmosphere. The Sun's surface is incredibly bright, so we only can see the corona during a total eclipse.

What will we see here on campus?
Here in Elmira, we will observe a partial eclipse, beginning around 1:15 pm, and ending just before 4:00 pm. At its peak around 2:40 pm, about 72% of the Sun's disk will be covered. You can learn about the coverage for other locations at one of the links listed below.

What can we learn from this eclipse?
Not only can we look forward to stunning images of the eclipse in the weeks to come, but we also gain some important knowledge from eclipses. Because this is our best chance to observe the corona, scientists will study images from eclipses to learn more about the dynamics of the solar atmosphere. The Sun is also a significant gravitational source, so the opportunity to conduct astronomical observations during an eclipse makes possible the fine-tuning of aspects of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Indeed, it was the observations made of the apparent positions of several stars during solar eclipses in 1919 and 1922 that helped confirm his theory. 

I hope you enjoy the eclipse of 2017. And, if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the path of totality under clear skies and capture an awesome image, please share it! 

Learn more about the history of eclipses and how to safely view the solar eclipse.

 Elmira College Soaring Eagle mascot with solar eclipse glasses on.


Be sure to grab your NASA-approved eclipse viewing glasses and stay tuned to the Elmira College Snapchat account for more solar eclipse facts and fun.