All You Need To Know About the Total Eclipse

As you’ve likely heard by now, on August 21st there will be a total eclipse of the Sun visible from a wide swath of the United States. This is a big deal. You see, while there are frequently eclipses of some variety that are apparent on American soil, a total eclipse is something much more rare. And while it’s true that we on the cape and islands aren’t in the optimal viewing zone, we are still set to experience a sight the likes of which has not been available for decades.

For starters, what is a total eclipse and how is it different from all that stuff you’ve already seen? Well, if what you saw happened in the last 38 years, it wasn’t a total eclipse, the last one visible in the continental U.S was in 1979. There are lots of different kinds of eclipses; you got your total solar, the partial solar, the annular, and the lunar. For the sake of total accuracy there’s a bunch more to, but it gets complicated. These are the biggies.

Partial eclipses are pretty common; this is when part of the son is obscured by the Moon. Lunar eclipses are the ones you see at night, when the Earth is directly between the Sun and Moon and Earth’s shadow is visible on the Moon. An annular eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are exactly in line with the Earth, but because of their distances from Earth, the moon appears smaller. As a result, the Sun appears as a very bright ring, which can’t be fully viewed without special glasses.

A total eclipse, on the other hand, is exceptionally rare. To start, the Moon and the Sun have to be exactly in line with one another; then, the two have to be a distance from earth which makes them appear to be the exact same size. It occurs in the middle of the day, bright and sunny as any, the Moon begins to slowly and increasingly block the Sun and the skies darken until, for a brief moment, the Moon entirely blocks the sun and all that’s visible is a greenish-yellow glow, the corona. Then the moon continues on its path until finally it is gone, and things return to normal. The entire process takes just a few hours.

Now, before you get too excited, as we discussed earlier those here in southeastern Massachusetts are not quite in the optimal viewing zone of this particular eclipse. Those with the best view, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

Still though, it is a rare event that ought to be appreciated and taken advantage of. To start, those of us in this viewing zone will require special viewing glasses because, if you haven’t heard, staring directly into the sun for an extended period of time is a bad idea. They’re cheap; you can buy them here, or here, or here, or here.

As far as where to go to watch the eclipse, the answer is you can watch it anywhere that you can see the sun. If a tropical storm happens to strike the cape on August 21st, then one can reasonably presume that our view of the eclipse will be lousy, aside from that you can watch it anywhere just look for the sun. It’s big, bright, and easy to spot.

If you’re more the social type and you want to watch with others, or you hope to learn more about it as it happens, there are a couple events being offered. Heritage Museums and Gardens is marking the event with a special day of activities at their Sandwich campus. Visitors will receive a free pair of safe eclipse viewing glasses, while supplies last, make their own pinhole projector, talk with astronomy expert Gil Newton, eat moon, and sun, themed food, and participate in other eclipse-related activities.

Those on Nantucket shouldn’t feel left out of the action. The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association will also be offering a number of programs and workshops to celebrate the occasion with a week of fun leading to the eclipse. The association will be offering solar viewing glasses all week at their offices on Vestal Street, will offer a pinhole camera class on Tuesday the 15th, and they will hold an eclipse workshop on the 20th, and a viewing party the day of. More information on both is available here.

NASA will also be offering life streaming of the eclipse combined with interactive maps and educational services, all of that can be found here.

If in the end, you happen to miss this particular eclipse of the sun, worry not. The next one is a mere seven years away.

By Staff
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy