As I wrote earlier this week, the Great American Eclipse is coming on Monday.  Our moon will trace its orbit between the Earth and the sun, and everyone in North America will see either a partial or total eclipse of the sun. The line of totality (100 percent eclipsed sun) from Oregon to South Carolina is about 70 miles wide.  The shadow will race across the face of the United States at 2,100 mph (Mach 2.7) – so no airplane could follow it.

If you are like me, traveling with a solar telescope and cameras to Lake Murray (near Columbia, South Carolina), you could expect 2 minutes and 37 seconds of totality.  Only people in this 70 mile path may remove their solar eye protection during this brief totality phase and revel in the spectacle of darkness centered from above, with horizons all remaining dim blue.  Stars (Arcturus, Regulus, Procyon, Pollux) and planets (Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Venus) will become visible.

Fifteen minutes before totality, the air temperature will drop (maybe 15° F), winds will shift, shadow bands will ripple, and trees will cast tiny crescents on the ground because the spaces between leaves act as pinhole cameras.

Five minutes before totality, birds may flock as if dusk were approaching, and bats and butterflies will emerge.  Sunlight through the lunar mountains create Bailey’s Beads around the rim of the moon just seconds before totality.

What about totality?  Here’s what some say:

“Most people do not understand how incredible it is.  It is a strange and unusual experience that affects us profoundly, and is very difficult to describe.” 

“The chance to see the Corona is the ultimate view of the sun.”

‘The spectacle is one of which, though the man of science may prosaically state the facts, perhaps only the poet could render the impression.”

“I doubt if the effect of witnessing a total eclipse ever quite passes away.  The impression is singularly vivid and quieting for days, and can never be wholly lost.  A startling nearness to the gigantic forces of nature and their inconceivable operation seems to have been established.  Personalities and towns and cities, and hates and jealousies, and even mundane hopes, grow very small and very far away.”

I look forward to experiencing this myself and sharing my observations with my students and colleagues at Harrisburg Academy.  For those unable to see the eclipse in its path of totality, be sure to read my previous blog post for tips and tricks for best viewing in your own area.

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.