This August, an unprecedented number of people will observe the Total Solar Eclipse. The last time the United States observed totality was on March 7, 1970, and it was only visible from a few states on the East Coast. Millions of people live in the path of totality of this year’s eclipse, and the entire population of the 48 continental states will observe a partial eclipse on August 21st. With so many people wanting to observe the eclipse, how are the towns in the path of totality preparing?
The Town of Jackson has been preparing tirelessly since 2015. The police and EMS are bringing in extra highway patrol officers and emergency services, and are keeping careful track of all of the large events happening in the valley. Through the hard work of the town’s Eclipse Event Coordinator, Jackson’s EMS services, and their teams and employees, the Town of Jackson has created www.tetoneclipse.com, a highly comprehensive website with important information for both locals and visitors. Wyoming Stargazing has been assisting the town in spreading awareness by holding free monthly presentations with Jackson’s EMS coordinator. To find out when and where the next presentation is, visit our Public Astronomy Programs page, and check out our calendar at the bottom.
Preparedness and awareness go hand in hand! The town of Jackson would like all of its residents to be aware of the number of guests joining us for the eclipse, and to welcome them for a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. Local restaurants should consider stocking more food and beverages for eclipse week. Gas stations should make sure their tanks are full. Visitors and residents alike should have a back stock of food, water, and gasoline. The most important task, though, is to GET EXCITED! Some consider total solar eclipses the most beautiful celestial event visible with the naked eye!
Want to capture the eclipse and the Grand Teton in the same frame? It’s going to be tough, considering the Sun will be at an elevation of 50° above the horizon. With a wide enough angle lens, there are a few spots you can capture the Grand Teton in the same frame as the eclipse. One of the spots is at Lake Solitude. The hike to the lake is arduous, being 8 miles one way with 2,982 feet of vertical gain. However, it will be worth the effort if you have the endurance! With practice and precision, it’s possible to get the Grand, the eclipse, and a reflection of the eclipse in Lake Solitude. For more information about this hike, or to read about the other hikes in Grand Teton National Park that you can take to get the Grand and the eclipse in the same shot, visit our store to purchase Aaron Linsdau’s “Jackson Hole Total Eclipse Guide”.
Much of the astronomical knowledge of ancient Greece would have been lost following the early medieval period had it not been for the great Islamic astronomers whom at the same time were in the midst of their Golden Age (9th–13th centuries) of knowledge, science, and learning. In 830, the “House of Wisdom” was founded in modern day Baghdad as a central location to translate texts from Greek into Arabic. The Islamic rationale behind the development of astronomical understanding included time-keeping for multiple daily prayers, determinations of longitude and latitude for prayer directions, and for navigation. The Islamic astronomers further developed the astronomical understanding of the Greeks and left an enduring legacy.
The names of many of the most visible stars in the night sky still bare the Arabic names given to them more than a millennium ago as do the astronomical terms azimuth (a measurement of an angular horizontal distance along the horizon) and nadir (a point on the celestial sphere directly below the observer). Another invaluable contribution by one of the greatest Islamic astronomers, al-Khwarizmi (Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi) was the development of the mathematical discipline of algebra. With the Latin translations in the 12th century of the more than 10,000 Arabic manuscripts that still exist today, the contributions of the Islamic astronomers made is way through Europe and all the way to China where they heavily influenced the development of modern science.
Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic faith, is referenced in at least two total solar eclipses. The Koran mentions an eclipse that preceded the birth of Mohammed in 569 C.E, which lasted three minutes and 17 seconds. A shorter total solar eclipse occurred shortly after the death of Mohammed’s son Ibrahim. But the world’s first Muslim didn’t interpret that eclipse was a metaphysical phenomena. Instead, according to Islamic texts called the Hadiths, Mohammed proclaimed “the sun and the moon do not suffer eclipse for any one’s death or life.” His apparent lack of superstition regarding naturalistic phenomena was not shared by many of his contemporaries or by those alive for centuries to come in Europe as will we see tomorrow.
In the Christian gospels there are allusions to solar eclipses around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The so-called Report of Pilate states: “Jesus was delivered to him by Herod, Archelaus, Philip, Annas, Caiphas, and all the people. At his crucifixion the Sun was darkened; the stars appeared and in all the world people lighted lamps from the sixth hour till evening…” There are accounts describing this as a miracle or as a sign of dark times to come. It is possible to pinpoint the death of Jesus be looking at the solar eclipses that tool place around that time in history. Doing so some historians tie the crucifixion to a one minute 59 second total solar eclipse that occurred in the year 29 C.E., while others say another total eclipse in 33 C.E. that lasted four minutes and six second marked Jesus’ death.
There are also allusions in the Bible to a lunar eclipse after the crucifixion. In fact, at the end of the above quotation is the phrase “the Moon appeared like blood.” In Acts of the Apostles, Peter refers to a Moon that is the color of blood and a darkened sky. What’s interesting here is that it is impossible for both a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse eclipse to occur on consecutive days. They can only occur two weeks apart when the Moon is New (a possibility for a solar eclipse) and when the Moon is Full (a possibility for a lunar eclipse). Even though there were both lunar and solar eclipses that correspond to the times of Jesus death we may never know which of those celestial events happened at the time of his crucifixion.
Much like the Earth, the Sun has different layers to its structure. The densest region is located at the middle, where hydrogen and helium are being pulled to the center of the Sun by gravity. Light particles (a.k.a. photons) produced in the core by nuclear fusion have to reach the layer known as the photosphere before escaping into space. After their valiant escape, it takes just 8 minutes for the photons to hit the Earth. The photosphere is the “surface” of the sun that we see with our eyes (using proper eye protection, of course!) Photons can spend thousands of years trying to escape the dense inner layers before finally reaching the photosphere.
Outside the photosphere are two areas known as the chromosphere and the corona that will be visible during the eclipse. Usually you cannot see these regions at all. They are too close to the intense light of the photosphere, and their light gets outshone. The chromosphere is a small red layer that is cooler than the photosphere. It will actually appear as a red or pink ring during the eclipse. The corona is a large sparse cloud of hot solar material. The corona is unusually hot, at about 1000 times hotter than the photosphere (1,800,000 °F.) Scientists do not know what the causes the corona to be so incredibly hot. The corona will be seen as wispy strands of white material coming out from behind the Moon.
Our sun is a star just like all of the points of light in our night sky. The reason the Sun is so bright and appears so much bigger than the other stars is simply because it is so close to the Earth. The Sun is actually pretty average. There are many stars that are much larger and much hotter. If you took the star Betelgeuse (in the constellation of Orion) and placed it where the Sun is, the Earth would actually be inside of it! With a radius of about 510 million miles Betelgeuse would stretch past Jupiter.
All stars produce their light from nuclear fusion within their cores. Our Sun combines hydrogen atoms to form helium, fusing about 329 million tons of material per second. The energy released in that one second is about as strong as 6.1 trillion “Little Boy” atomic bombs. The Sun has enough hydrogen to keep these reactions going for another 5 billion years. Once the Sun runs out of fuel it swell in size and become a red giant star. The sun will get so big Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, will be destroyed. After this phase of its life, the red giant Sun will begin pulsing in size eventually puffing its outer layers off into space and creating a planetary nebula.
Seeing the Moon pass in front of the Sun is not all there is to a solar eclipse! When the eclipse begins, the disc of the Moon will start to pass in front of the Sun and it will start to get darker. Eventually it will be almost as dark as night with stars visible in the sky in the middle of the day. This provides a unique chance for us to see constellations and celestial bodies we normally would not be able to see during this time of year. This will be a pretty awe inspiring sight, so there’s a reason ancient people used to see eclipses as acts of gods or demons!
With the majority of the Sun’s light blocked out, parts of the sun and interesting phenomena will also become visible. We will be able to see parts of the Sun known as the chromosphere, and the corona that we normally are not able to see. If we are lucky we may also be able to see some interesting effects during totality such as Baley’s Beads and the diamond ring effect. Below are some examples of these amazing sights. As our blog progresses we will explain the science behind these interesting features of the eclipse
This eclipse is the first solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred on February 26, 1979. It only barely passed through five states in the Northwest, and the weather was mostly cloudy. This year, everyone in the continental U.S. will see a partial eclipse. The path of totality passes through 10 states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina. On the map to the right you can see how the eclipse will be seen from the rest of the country.
If you’ve got any family or friends who won’t be in Jackson during the eclipse, show them this map so they can still see an awesome partial eclipse! Just remember that you will need eye protection no matter where you are to view the eclipse safely. Solar eclipse shades can be purchased here on our website at the link below this post. People who are lucky enough to find themselves on the path of totality will be able to see the eclipse briefly at its peak when the Sun has been fully covered up. The amount of time where it is safe to look varies on your location. In Jackson we will have a little over 2 minutes to view the eclipse safely with the naked eye. Later on in our blog we will discuss other safe ways to view the eclipse.
The word eclipse means “to obscure light.” A solar eclipse is an astronomical event where the Moon appears to cover up the Sun in our sky. But how is our tiny Moon able to cover up something as large as the Sun? (Check out the comparison of the Moon, Earth, and Sun on the right!) While the Moon is about 400 times smaller than our Sun, it is also 400 times closer to the Earth than the Sun is. This causes it to appear to be exactly the right size in our sky to completely block out the light from our Sun.
We are able to see a solar eclipse when the Moon is located directly in a straight line between the Sun and the Earth, also known as the fun word syzygy. The Moon will then cast a shadow onto the Earth. In a small region of the Earth, the Moon will completely block out the Sun’s light. The full shadow is known as the umbra. The area on the Earth that will be within the umbra is known as the path of totality.
In Jackson we are lucky enough to find ourselves in the path of totality, allowing us to see a total eclipse! The rest of the continental United States outside of the path will be only partially in the Moon’s shadow, causing them to only see a partial solar eclipse. The partial shadow is known as the penumbra.