A week from today a lunar eclipse will take place that will be viewable at least in part from practically all of North and South America. But you’ll have to get up early to view it.
On August 28, at 3:51am CDT, the Moon will begin to enter the Earth’s umbra in a total lunar eclipse that will last about an hour and a half. Mid-eclipse will take place at 5:37am CDT and the Moon will begin to exit the Earth’s shadow at 6:22am CDT.
The totality phase will be preceded and followed by partial phases that aren’t as easy to see since the Moon will be passing through the penumbra where the sunlight isn't completely blocked out. Viewers west of the Rockies will be able to see the entire totality phase, but the rest of the country will only see the beginnings of it as the Moon will set before it exits the Earth’s umbral shadow. South America will experience it in the same way, and China, some of Russia, India and Australia will see it as the Moon rises in that part of the world.
If for some reason you don’t want to get up that early to see this wonderful astronomical event, Larry Koehn has a great eclipse website with animations of this and other eclipses.
Which brings me to the other eclipse I wanted to mention.
I may be jumping the gun a bit on this next one, but it’s never too early to make plans. Exactly ten years from today’s date on August 21, 2017 a total solar eclipse will track across the entire mid-section of the United States diagonally from Washington state to South Carolina.
It will be the first total solar eclipse viewable from the mainland United States since 1979 when the path of totality swept across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and into Canada. I implore you to do whatever you can to position yourself inside the path of totality.
I watched the 1979 eclipse near my home in Minneapolis where it was only a partial eclipse with 91% of the sun was covered. As maximum eclipse approached, it presented some nice effects: the light quality began to take on an eerie steely tone, the air temperature dropped noticeably, and the branches of nearby trees created tiny crescent-shaped images of the sun on the ground. But as fascinating as the effects were, it was still only a partial eclipse. I knew I had made a mistake not driving 300 miles to Winnipeg to get into the path of totality.
Writer Annie Dillard made the best analogy between viewing a partial and a total solar eclipse in her essay “Total Eclipse”. I’m paraphrasing here, but Dillard said watching a partial solar eclipse versus watching a total solar eclipse is the same as flying in an airplane versus falling out of one. She’s not far off.
My brother and I made sure we got ourselves to Mexico when the next nearby total eclipse occurred on July 11, 1991. We flew into Puerto Vallarta where we hooked up with an expedition led by a scientist from the US Naval Observatory, and rode with them an hour north to the seaside village of Sayulita which was situated about 2.5 miles inside the southern edge of the moon’s shadow. It was on that isolated beach where I finally saw a total solar eclipse. And it was something I’ll never forget.
To make a long story short, seeing a total eclipse was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to describe what you feel during totality, when the constant sun suddenly disappears, and the invisible corona suddenly becomes visible as a gossamer, living fabric extending out from the sun into space. Once you’ve seen one, you’ll want to see many more.
In ten years just about everyone and their brother in the USA will have a chance to witness nature’s greatest light show. I suggest you begin planning for the August 21, 2017 eclipse now.
MORE ECLIPSE INFO