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Eclipse Chasers Flock To Path Of Totality


We are now days away from, what some scientists call, “the most beautiful event in the sky,” a total solar eclipse. Only some US cities will be lucky enough to see the moon completely overtake the sun on Monday, when it a casts a long, thin shadow across the country. KNAU’s science reporter Melissa Sevigny is on her way to Madras, Oregon, one of the cities located in, what’s known as, the path of totality. Melissa spoke with KNAU’s Aaron Granillo before she took off.

Aaron Granillo: So, path of totality. It's a dramatic term, but really it’s only casting a relatively small shadow, right?

Credit NASA

Melissa Sevigny: Right. So, the path of totality is this path that stretches across the country, in this case, from Oregon to South Carolina.  It’s really just about 70 miles wide, so it’s a pretty narrow path. And, if you can get yourself into that path, you’ll be able to see the sun completely blocked out by the moon. And, apparently that’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen it myself yet. This is going to be my first one. But, it’s like day turns to night. The stars come out. The crickets start chirping. And, eclipse chasers will do all kinds of work to get themselves into the path of totality. I’m going to Madras, which is going to be a great place to go because our very own Lowell Observatory is hosting a big event there. They’re going to have astronomers there, and have solar telescopes set up. Really good place to go because the weather is supposed to be good. Of course, if it’s cloudy you’ll miss the whole show. So, we’re looking for a place with sunny skies.

Solar eclipses are not all that rare. Why is this one getting so much hype?

Yeah, you’re right about that. So, solar eclipses happen somewhere on the planet about every 18 months. So, that’s pretty often. But, at any given spot on the planet – right, it’s a big planet – you’re only going to see one about every couple hundred years, three or 400 years. So, it can actually be a once in a lifetime event. This one is special because it’s stretching from sea to shining sea. And, the last time that happened was actually a hundred years ago.

And, the point where the sun is completely blocked out is a really short of period of time.

It is a very short period of time. And, it varies a little bit depending on where you are, but where I’ll be in Oregon, it’s going to be just about two minutes long.

And you’ll be in Madras, which is a tiny city that’s expecting this huge influx of people. How are officials there preparing?

So, Madras has got just over 6,000 people in it. And, they are expecting 100,000 visitors. So you can imagine it’s a little bit like a dress rehearsal for a disaster. They’re bracing themselves for potentially food shortages, water shortages, problems with emergency vehicles getting to where they need to go. They actually hired someone to be an eclipse coordinator. That’s her whole job. And, she’s been working on this for two years, having monthly meetings with folks in town to really prepare themselves for this. Things like telling restaurants to have limited menus and to maybe round up to the nearest dollar to make transactions a little quicker. And, it’s good to remember that if you’re traveling to the path of totality, you know, these towns are doing their best, but there are still going to be a lot of people flooding in. So, make sure you’re prepared. Bring food with you, bring water, bring cash, and be a good guest when you get there.

Credit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Partial vs. total eclipse

So, here in Arizona, unfortunately we are not in that “path of totality.” What will we see here, and where are some good spots to witness it?

We still will see a solar eclipse here on Monday, but it will just be a partial solar eclipse. The sun is going to be about 70 percent covered at the max of this eclipse. It’s important to remember that you cannot watch a solar eclipse just with your eyeballs or even with sunglasses. That is very unsafe, so don’t do that. You need to have solar-filtered glasses. Or, find somebody who has a solar telescope, which would be a cool way to watch it. Here in Flagstaff, you can head up to Lowell Observatory and there will be astronomers there with solar telescopes. There’s also going to be a telescope out at the visitor center at the Grand Canyon. And, I know Meteor Crater near Winslow has invited people out to watch the eclipse. And a really cool thing is that public libraries across the country have gotten involved. So, if you’re in Cottonwood or Kingman or Prescott, head out to your public library and they’ll have glasses to pass out, and they’ll be kind of celebrating the eclipse as well. I should add to all of that of course it’s a personal decision whether you go watch an eclipse. And, there are many members of native nations here in Arizona, who actually choose not to watch eclipses. So, for example, the Navajo will go inside during that time and cease all activity. And, that’s a way for them to sort of honor these celestial objects, the moon and the sun, which are sacred objects. So, I think that’s a beautiful example of how eclipses mean something different to everyone.   

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