In case you haven't heard about it yet—people in the United States are in for a rare, scientific astronomical treat.
A total solar eclipse will make its way through our entire country Monday for the first time in almost a century. The last time a total solar eclipse was visible in the U.S.—from coast to coast—was in 1918, according to NASA. There was a total solar eclipse in 1979, but its path only clipped the northwestern region of the U.S.
A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the sun and earth and blocks all or part of the sun. Depending on where you are during the big celestial event will be the difference in observing a partial or a total solar eclipse. Totality is when the moon will completely cover the sun. The path of totality will stretch from the east coast at Lincoln Beach, Ore., to the west coast at Charleston, S.C. For the rest of the country, which includes us, the Brainerd lakes area, we will see a partial solar eclipse with the moon covering part of the sun's light.
Brainerd residents will be able to see the eclipse from 11:42 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, with the best time at 1:03 p.m. to see the maximum eclipse, according to NASA. The maximum time is when the moon will block the most sun, with an obscuration of 79.52 percent.
This information was shared last week, by David Kobilka, the earth science and astronomy instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, who discussed the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse. Kobilka's presentation was hosted by the Brainerd Public Library in the large meeting room, which was standing room only. About 170 people of all ages came to hear more about the event.
The most important information Kobilka discussed was safety. Looking directly at the sun is unsafe and will damage your vision, except during the brief moment when there is a total solar eclipse, which will not happen in Brainerd or Minnesota.
Kobilka shared what people shouldn't view the sun through:
• Sunglasses, as they only block out 80 percent of visible light,
• Multiple sunglasses,
• Mylar balloons,
• Mylar food wrappers, such as Pop Tart bags,
• Smoked glass,
• CDs or CD-ROMs,
• Welding goggles, as they only block out 98 percent of the visible light,
• Liquid filters,
• Coffee, sun tea,
• Eyepiece solar filters, or
• Eclipse glasses and telescopes together.
Kobilka said people can go online to the American Astronomical Society website for a list of places to get the "right" eclipse glasses, which need to have ISO 12312-2 written on them—otherwise, they are junk.
More safety tips by NASA include:
• Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
• Always supervise children using solar filters.
• Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter—do not remove it while looking at the sun.
• Do not look at the "uneclipsed" or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other optical device.
• If you are within the path of totality remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun's bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.
Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.
• If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.
Kobilka also shared a do it yourself viewing device to watch the eclipse. A person would need:
• Two pieces of stiff white cardboard.
• A small piece of aluminum foil about 2 inches in size.
• Tape such as masking, electrical or duct.
• A pin, needle or pushpin.
• A scissors, box cutter or hobby knife.
To make the device:
• Step 1: Cut a hole in the center of one of the pieces of cardboard. It should be about an inch or 2 inches across. The shape of the hole doesn't really matter.
• Step 2: Completely cover the hole with the piece of aluminum foil and tape it down. Try to make it nice and flat.
• Step 3: Use a pin or needle to make a tiny hole in the foil. Make it as small and circular as possible. If you make a mistake, cover it with a small piece of tape and try again.
• Step 4: Hold the pieces of cardboard. The piece of cardboard without the hole in it will be the screen. If the cardboard isn't white, tape a plain white sheet of paper to it.
Go to perkins.owu.edu/documents/education/pinhole.pdf to see illustrations of the technique.
"I think (this solar eclipse) is pretty cool," Kobilka said. "I have seen several (partial) solar eclipses before, but this one is a once in a lifetime eclipse. I was going to travel to the path of totality, but it is the first day of class (at the college) and I am known as the cosmo of the college so I should be here to share the information. It has been fun sharing the facts of the eclipse."
When talking about the science behind a solar eclipse, Kobilka said the reason why we have them is as easy as the math. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun but the sun is about 400 times farther away, but in space they look to be the same size, he said.
"They are both pretty tiny in space," he said. "If the moon was even a little bit closer to the earth or further away or bigger or smaller we wouldn't have total solar eclipse, so somehow we just got lucky on that note."
Kobilka said a question he gets a lot is if the moon goes around the earth once a month, why don't we have a solar eclipse once a month? A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and earth, but the moon doesn't orbit in the same plane as the earth's orbital plane. Kobilka said the moon casts a shadow and tilts so it does not always align perfectly between the sun and earth, above or below the line—where all three align just right to create a solar eclipse.
So this year alone—with the way the three celestial bodies move— there are 12 full moons and 12 new moons, but only four eclipses—two lunar and two solar, which includes Monday's total solar eclipse event.
About 20 percent of the people who attended the library event last week, by a show of hands, had plans to travel to the path of totality to watch the big event. States included Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri and Tennessee.
Brainerd residents Don Rasmussen and Dee Mick plan to travel to Nebraska. Rasmussen, who started making plans in June, has family in Nebraska who live near the path of totality.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Rasmussen said. "I've been reading a lot about it. We bought our glasses, but had to bring them back because they were uncertified. So Amazon gave us our money back so now we need to find new (eclipse) glasses."
Mick said they are going to a small town named Odell, Neb., just south of Beatrice. Mick said they stumbled across this town as there was no camping available in the Beatrice area. She said "they are so friendly down there" and the bed and breakfast they are staying at is allowing them to hook up their camper.
"The town is only 300 people and they are having a big celebration and we get to be part of it," Mick said. "It is so Americana. We're just really excited about it. We have been to Nebraska before and they are so kind-hearted."
For people who are staying in the lakes area, both CLC and the library in Brainerd are hosting solar eclipse events. CLC will have telescopes with solar filters and solar eclipse glasses available on the campus lawn near Door 4 to watch the eclipse.
The next total solar eclipse the U.S. will see will be April 8, 2024. However, it will not cross Minnesota. It will travel through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, according to the EarthSky.org website.