August 2017 will be remembered for the astronomical event of The Great American Total Solar Eclipse. It is forecasted to cross the entire United States on August 21.
This will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in 99 years, and if you're prepared for this event beforehand you will have plenty of time to see the predicted 85% solar eclipse here in La Crosse.
The science behind the total solar eclipse wasn't always easy to understand like it is nowadays. Bob Allen, the Planetarium Director at the UW-La Crosse says, "To get eclipse prediction you had to pass on, and it wasn't easy if you didn't have a permanent way of doing it. Where on earth were you, what time of night or day was it, where was the sun or moon when it happened. then you see much longer term patterns where you can predict them. It's a matter of getting the orbital, moon and earth orbits nailed down enough to know it's within the limits of what it takes to get in the earth's orbital plane when it's new or full moon."
The path of totality takes the eclipse from the Pacific Northwest in Oregon, crossing over Lincoln, Nebraska and through the heart of the United States. It will exit on the east coast near Columbia, South Carolina. La Crosse will see a near 85% eclipse, which would cause street lights to turn on during the day. The starting time for the event will be near 11:45 am with peak viewing times, locally, at roughly 1:10 pm. Everything will come to an end by 2:30 pm.
If you are out viewing the celestial event, you'll want to steer clear of regular sunglasses and go for eclipse shades or viewing it indirectly. Eclipse shades help to deflect more of the sun's radiation. Looking directly at the sun during the eclipse can cause serious eye damage.
Kendra Garbrecht, an Optometrist with Optical Fashions explains the consequences of looking directly at the eclipse. Dr. Garbrecht adds, "Solar eclipse blindness is an actual thing. The amount of radiation from the sun can cause permanent, very serious damage to a structure inside your eyes called the retinal. And, it can actually even lead to permanent vision loss or blindness."
Luckily, you can view the total solar eclipse indirectly using just a little cardboard. Bob Allen said, "The easiest way is called pinhole projection. You take a piece of cardboard with a little more than a pinhole and a second piece and hold it up to the sun and hold this back and get a different size image, but the key is you're not looking at the sun. You're looking at the pinhole projection of the sun."
There was an eclipse in 1979, but only those residing in Washington, North Dakota, and Canada were able to see it. If you're looking forward to the next total solar eclipse, well, that is scheduled to zoom southwest to northeast across the entire United States in 2024.
If you happen to travel for this event, are within a 70 mile radius of the path of totality, and skies remain clear, it is likely you will see this celestial phenomenon. There are many festivities and festivals happening in small town locations along the path that will see a 100% total solar eclipse and an inundation of people coming to view it.