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It's solar eclipse time!

Starwatch

Millions and millions of skywatchers, including yours truly, have waited a long time for this!

This coming Monday, April 8, Much of North America and the United States will see at least a partial eclipse as the moon crosses in front of the sun. There’ll be a total eclipse along a nearly 125-wide path that’ll reach central Mexico in the late morning, cross into Texas in the early afternoon, and then head northeast into the Ohio River Valley, upstate New York, Quebec, Canada, and New England, finally exiting the continent through the Canadian Maritimes in the late afternoon.

What sets this eclipse apart is its unique combination of a wide totality path and an extended totality time.

The path of totality, where the moon completely covers the sun, spans nearly 125 miles and will be visible for an impressive duration.

In the U.S., the totality time ranges from over four minutes in Texas to over three minutes in Maine. This is due to the moon in its orbit being near its closest monthly approach to the Earth at the same time this eclipse is happening. This makes the moon’s disk appear larger in the sky than average, allowing it to cover the sun longer than usual.

It won’t be a total eclipse in Butler, but it’ll be darn close!

It begins at 2:01 in the afternoon. At 3:07 at the mid-eclipse, 98% of the sun will be covered. Darkness will set in!

The eclipse ends at 4:30 p.m. Even with a nearly 98% partial eclipse, it’s still a far cry from the grand show of totality. The really good news for us is that not that far away, in extreme northwestern Pennsylvania, it will be a total eclipse. Check out the great show in Erie and the immediate vicinity.

As with any solar eclipse, do not stare at the sun without special approved eclipse glasses. You could damage your eyes permanently. The only exception to this would be during a few minutes of totality.

Total eclipses of the sun occur when the moon briefly covers the face of the sun in its monthly orbit around Earth. They occur about twice a year on average somewhere around the world when the moon is precisely in a line between the Sun and a narrow swath on Earth.

Since both the disks of the sun and moon disks are about the same size in the sky, this is a spectacular and rare show. On average, any one spot of the Earth experiences one every three or four centuries.

Photographing a total or partial eclipse can be a lot of fun, but you must protect your eyes and camera. There's a lot of great information on the internet on how to do this.

Personally though, I'm not all that interested in photographing the eclipse. There's going to be a plethora of photos being taken by folks much more skilled than I am and probably most of you too.

I can tell you from experience that I believe it's most rewarding to witness it just with your protected, God-given eyes. Keep those eclipse glasses on!

Also, never, never, NEVER view the partial eclipse with binoculars and telescopes, even if you're wearing eclipse glasses. Blindness can set in almost immediately! Safety first!

Make sure, though, that you don't spend the entire time staring at the sun through your eclipse glasses, especially if you're in the band of totality.

Turn away from the sun and observe the landscape around you. Watch the diminishing daylight and changing sky color, avoiding the sun.

If you're lucky to be in the totality band, you may actually see the moon's shadow migrating across the landscape. There's no way to photograph that. You just have to see it! You'll also feel the temperature dropping.

With your solar eclipse glasses on, make sure you witness the very last bit of the sun's disk being covered, producing what’s called the diamond ring effect as the sun's light sneaks through mountain passes at the edge of the moon's disk.

You may easily see flares and prominences churning and emanating from the sun's violent surface. The sun's corona and outer atmosphere will also be clearly visible.

Also, take a few seconds here and there to check out the sky during totality. Bright stars and planets pop out, and the skies take on a weird twilight color all along the horizon.

Projection method

If you can't get a hold of eclipse glasses, all is not lost. You can also use the projection method to keep up with the partial eclipse.

Get a piece of white cardboard and punch a pencil-diameter hole in the center of it. Hole that piece with the hole in it over another piece of stiff white cardboard with your back to the sun and hold the pencil hole piece back toward the sun. Use the shadow of the cardboard to aim it over the blank cardboard. You should be able to see an image of the partially eclipsed on the black sheet with absolutely no danger. It really works!

Instead of a piece of cardboard with a hole in it, you can also use a cooking spoon with holes in it and see multiple images of solar eclipses. In fact, leaves on trees can have the same effect, as the space between them can produce many images of the partial eclipse on the ground or the side of a house or other buildings. It's wild!

Wherever you end up watching the eclipse, pray for clear enough skies. Again, the next extensive total eclipse in the U.S. won't be until 2045!

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author of “Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations,” published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and adventurepublications.net. Contact him at mikewlynch@comcast.net.

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