Have you heard about the Great American Eclipse yet? It is set to be the biggest event of Summer 2017, and I’m here with frequently asked questions (and their answers) for busy parents.
Q: First things first, when is the Great American Eclipse?
A: The eclipse is Monday, August 21, 2017. In Wichita the big build up will start around 10:30 a.m., with the peak around noon. Exact time varies by location (great interactive map here) and duration of the total eclipse is up to 2 minutes 40 seconds, with partial eclipse lasting longer.
Q: Take me back to elementary science class, what is a solar eclipse?
A: During a solar eclipse the Earth, Moon and Sun line up (moon in the middle, obviously) and from Earth the Sun will be hidden from sight.
Q: I’m always hearing about super moons, meteor showers and eclipses, what makes this special?
A: A total solar eclipse is the Big Kahuna of astrological events. People who experience totality claim it is a rapturous affair.
Q: Just how rare is a total solar eclipse?
A: If you stayed in one place on Earth you’d see a total solar eclipse approximately every 360 years. Unless you take up eclipse chasing (and there are lots of people who do), this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for you and your family to view. Somewhere on Earth there is a total solar eclipse about every 18 months; the Great American Eclipse is the first one crossing anywhere in the United States since 1979.
Q: Wait a minute. I know I saw a solar eclipse in school, didn’t I?
A: Me too! You probably saw the annular solar eclipse of May 1994. During an annular eclipse the moon is closer to the sun in it’s orbit and while the moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun, it isn’t “big” enough to cover it completely. There was a ring of Sun still visible that won’t be present in a total solar eclipse.
Q: Will I be able to see it from where I am?
A: Yes, at least partially. The center line of the total solar eclipse stretches 70 miles wide and crosses 10 states. Outside the path of totality you are going to see at least a 48-percent of totality everywhere in the United States; this map demonstrates it well. You may choose to travel into the path of totality to get the full experience; plan ahead because it’s likely millions of other Americans will also be traveling to view as well. Rather than the 90-percent totality in Wichita, my family of beautiful nerds is heading to Missouri for over two minutes of total eclipse wonder.
Q: Do we need any special equipment to view the eclipse?
A: Solar eclipses are said to be democratic events because they require no expensive equipment or extensive scientific knowledge to observe. But, looking directly at the sun is dangerous. You will want to use special viewing goggles (not sunglasses!), make a pinhole camera, or use a DIY box projector. (In Wichita, Kay’s This N That has a limited supply of eclipse glasses). You can do a combination of all three with curious kids. If you are in the path of totality, it is safe to view with your naked eye only during the total phase.
Q: Will my kids care?
A: I don’t know. I hope so! Because this eclipse is happening at the end of summer vacation for most American children it is up to parents and not teachers to hype the eclipse. Spend some time as a family learning about astronomy this summer and get ready to see the solar system in action. If the day comes and your kids aren’t impressed, the worst that happens is that you’ve spent a couple hours outside as a family doing something together. Oh, and bring snacks!
Q: How can I learn more?
A: Great question! I’ve linked many great resources throughout this post and also highly recommend this episode of the podcast Every Little Thing. Now showing in the Boeing Dome Theater & Planterium at Exploration Place is the film Totality to give you a glimpse at the eclipse before the big event. Pinterest is always a wealth of information and activities and I loved this document prepared by the National Science Teacher Association.