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Preparing for the Great American Eclipse

Jim Small and Don Ficken, two members of the St. Louis Astronomical Society, visited Mineral Area College earlier this month to talk about this summer’s total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 — coined the “Great American Eclipse” — and how people can take advantage of this very rare event.

Ficken, an amateur astronomer with the St. Louis society showed those in attendance, using a flashlight, a miniature “moon” on a stick and a map of Missouri, how the eclipse will cross the state from west to east and how those who are in the direct path of the eclipse will all have an opportunity to experience a true total solar eclipse.

There are three basic types of solar eclipse: partial, annular and total. In a total eclipse, the disk of the sun is completely obscured by the moon. During partial and annular eclipses, only part of the sun is blocked out by the moon.

During a partial eclipse, a significant part of the sun always remains in view during the eclipse.

An annular solar eclipse is similar to a total eclipse in that the moon appears to pass centrally across the sun, but doesn’t completely block it out. Many people describe seeing it as a “ring of fire” around the moon. During an annular eclipse, the sky will darken into what some call a “counterfeit twilight” since so much of the sun still shows.

A total solar eclipse can only take place during the phase of “new moon,” when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth in a direct line and its shadow falls upon the Earth’s surface. “Totality” is the period of a total solar eclipse when the moon appears to be completely blocking the sun and all that is visible is a 360 degree glowing corona.

Some of the Missouri cities and towns that will experience the longest period of “totality” on Aug. 21 — two minutes and 40 or 41 seconds — are St. Joseph, Boonville (near Columbia,) De Soto and Ste. Genevieve. Many other nearby municipalities and rural areas will experience more than two minutes of totality, including Park Hills, Farmington, Leadwood, Bonne Terre and Potosi.

Jefferson City will also experience totality for two minutes and 29 seconds.

The exact period of totality will vary slightly, depending on location.

In Park Hills, for example, the total time of the eclipse will last close to three hours, beginning at 11:49 a.m. and ending at 2:45 p.m. The time of the total eclipse — when the sun, moon and Earth are perfectly aligned and the sun appears to be completely blocked out by the moon — will begin at 1:17 p.m. (at the 30 second-mark) and last for two minutes and 17 seconds.

Once the moon begins to block to the sun, “you’ll start noticing a dimming of the light,” Ficken said. “It’ll be like turning down a dimmer switch in your house.”

People will not be the only ones who notice the eclipse.

“The animals are going to be very confused by this,” said Ficken. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s night … Insects will start coming out. Farm animals will go back to their barns.”

And once the sun starts to emerge from behind the moon, roosters may begin crowing.

At mid-totality, a 360-degree glowing horizon will be on show and tongues of red fire might also be visible. Some brighter stars may also appear during the period of totality.

Everyone in the continental U.S. will see at least a partial eclipse on Aug. 21. All told, more than 500 million people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico will have opportunity to see a partial eclipse.

In the U.S., about 88 million people live within 200 miles of the path of the eclipse. Almost four percent — more than 12 million Americans — live within the path of the solar eclipse, from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

No other country anywhere in the world will experience this total eclipse.

The direct path of the eclipse will cross 12 states — beginning with Oregon, then moving through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. In each of those states, people visiting or living in the direct path will get to experience “totality,” given clear skies. 

Partial eclipses occur rather frequently. In the Parkland area, the last partial eclipse occurred in 2014, with the next to occur in 2023.

Much more rare, the last annular eclipse occurred in St. Louis in 1994 and in the Park Hills area in 1865. The next one won’t occur until the year 2251.

For people in the Parkland, this year’s total solar eclipse is even rarer. The last one to be seen on U.S. soil was in 1991, but it was only visible to people living in Hawaii or the southern tip of California. In 1979, only people along the west coast of the United States were privy to a total solar eclipse.

Missourians came close to seeing a total solar eclipse in 1918, but it crossed the country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, south of the state.

The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will occur on April 8, 2024, crossing from Texas to Maine.

The last time a total solar eclipse was visible to people living in the now-St. Louis and Parkland region would have been in the year 1442.

Across the globe, however, total solar eclipses are not considered rare. On average, they occur approximately 18 times a year at various locations around the planet. They only occur at any given location, however, on an average of about every 375 years.

When a total solar eclipse reaches “totality,” it can be viewed safely without eye protection, but before then, it’s very important to protect your eyes and never look at the sun without it, even for an instant.

As a general rule, it’s never safe to look at the sun without proper eye protection. The only completely safe way to view a partial or annular eclipse is using a projection of the sun, such as through a pinhole projector. Filtered views of the sun, using eclipse glasses for example, can be safe if the equipment is properly filtered and correctly used.

Sunglasses, Mylar balloons, smoked glass, film negatives, x-ray film and any other “homemade” viewing filters are never safe.

Camera lenses should be protected as well by using only specialized solar filters when photographing the sun.

Small and Ficken also spoke about the Total Solar Eclipse Expo taking place on June 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Greensfelder Recreation Complex at Queeny Park located in Ballwin. The expo will feature presentations by eclipse experts and more than 80 exhibits featuring eclipse viewing plans by area counties, cities, parks and schools. Exhibits will also include the latest in astronomy equipment and safe ways to view the eclipse. Admission is free for those who pre-register. For more information, visit EclipseExpo.org or look for “eclipseme” on Facebook.

For more information about the Great American Eclipse, including totality maps, how to safely view the eclipse and area viewing events, visit stlouiseclipse2017.org.

For more information or to reserve a spot at one of the 42 locations in the state park system where you can see the total eclipse, visit mostateparks.com/2017Eclipse.

Don Ficken, an amateur astronomer with the St. Louis Astronomical Society shows how the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse will cross Missouri from west to east and how those who are in the direct path of the eclipse will have an opportunity to experience a true total solar eclipse.

Don Ficken, an amateur astronomer with the St. Louis Astronomical Society shows how the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse will cross Missouri from west to east and how those who are in the direct path of the eclipse will have an opportunity to experience a true total solar eclipse.

Residents in the Parkland are among the fortunate few who are in the direct path of the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 — coined the “Great American Eclipse.

Residents in the Parkland are among the fortunate few who are in the direct path of the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 — coined the “Great American Eclipse.”

Everybody who is thinking about making plans to watch this summer’s total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is wise to start making those plans sooner rather than later. A relatively rare event, a total solar eclipse can only take place during the phase of “new moon,” when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth in a direct line and its shadow falls upon the Earth’s surface. 

Everybody who is thinking about making plans to watch this summer’s total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is wise to start making those plans sooner rather than later. A relatively rare event, a total solar eclipse can only take place during the phase of “new moon,” when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth in a direct line and its shadow falls upon the Earth’s surface. 

Don Ficken, an amateur astronomer with the St. Louis Astronomical Society talks about the upcoming Aug. 21 total solar eclipse that will occur in the Parkland. He and the president of the society, Jim Small, spoke to a group at Mineral Area College earlier this month.  

Don Ficken, an amateur astronomer with the St. Louis Astronomical Society talks about the upcoming Aug. 21 total solar eclipse that will occur in the Parkland. He and the president of the society, Jim Small, spoke to a group at Mineral Area College earlier this month.  

A total solar eclipse will occur in the Parkland on Aug. 21 with periods of

A total solar eclipse will occur in the Parkland on Aug. 21 with periods of “totality” lasting as long as two minutes and 41 seconds, depending on location. In Park Hills, totality will last two minutes and 17 seconds.  

Amy Patterson is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or apatterson@dailyjournalonline.com.

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