One of the most exciting once-in-a-lifetime events anyone can experience is coming on Monday, August 21st. It is a total solar eclipse of the sun, with its path heading right through Idaho. Although solar eclipses occur quite regularly, it can be as much as 300 years between eclipses occurring in the same location. Plus, weather plays a big role in seeing the eclipse too. This is why so many people are coming to Idaho to view this spectacular event. Carol Smith, the Boise Astronomical Society’s Public Relations Officer and previously their Education Liaison, talked with the Boise Beat to discuss why this is such an important event.
Q: Carol, what is so special about the upcoming solar eclipse?
A: This eclipse is special for a number of different reasons. Number one, it’s a total eclipse, which doesn’t happen all that often, every eighteen months or so is when we get a total eclipse and this one just happens to cross the United States. Because it is total, we get an opportunity to see the corona of the sun, its outer atmosphere which we wouldn’t be able to see without using technology. So it’s going to be pretty amazing and a beautiful sight to see.
Q: Is it necessary to use special eclipse glasses? Won’t sunglasses work?
A: It is ABSOLUTELY necessary to have eclipse glasses. Don’t use sunglasses! It’s important to use them because they block out over 99 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. If we were to look at the sun with just sunglasses or just our eyes, we would damage our eyes and not necessarily know it. There are no pain receptors in our eyes so we wouldn’t feel pain. We might have some spotting in our vision when that starts to happen, but when it does it happens quick. It just takes a couple of seconds, so we absolutely need those special glasses.
When you’re looking to get eclipse glasses, since it’s such a big event, there have been knockoffs entering the market that aren’t safe. You have to check and make sure they have an ISO rating, the number is printed on the glasses. The number is 12312-2. Typically, you can find them in Boise here at the big-box stores like Fred Meyer and Walmart. They definitely have plenty of glasses and when they’re sold there, they should be safe. You can check the library for a pair and I know Bruneau Dunes Observatory is also giving out pairs.
Q: Are there other ways to view the eclipse besides special glasses?
A: One of the ways that I would recommend is either through live-streaming—-I am sure that NASA will have a live-stream on their NASA TV. There are a few other outlets online that are doing it as well. Usually they have a live commentary going on with it; that should be quite interesting.
The second way is through projection, you can use something called a pinhole camera. Basically, you take one piece of paper, poke a hole through it—a small hole—and then take another piece of paper and hold it behind it with your back to the sun. You let the light shine through that little hole and project on that second sheet. That will give you what the sun looks like, so if it is a partial eclipse it will look like it’s a crescent, on that piece of paper. What happens too is that you’ll have all kinds of smattering of little crescent shapes on the ground.
Q: What’s the path of totality?
A: The path of totality is the path that the sun is sweeping across the US from Oregon to South Carolina. It’s about 70 miles wide and that’s where, from our perspective, you’re on the Earth to experience full coverage of the sun in totality. If you’re outside of that totality path it will be just a partial eclipse.
Q: Where does the path run near us? Is it necessary to go to the path to view the eclipse?
A: It isn’t right near us. Boise is not in the path of totality, although it will get 99.5 percent coverage so it will be pretty amazing, but when you’re that close, you might as well drive somewhere to get that extra .5 percent which will make all the difference with your experience. Nearby, if you want a short drive to experience the total eclipse, you can go to many different places. You can go to Weiser, Payette, Ontario, you can drive up to Emmett and go to the northern part of Emmett, you can go up to Valley County, Cascade or Horseshoe Bend, further east you can go to Idaho City, Stanley; and in Eastern Idaho you can go to Idaho Falls or Rexburg.
Q: What is the schedule for Eclipse Day?
A: Here in Boise, the eclipse will begin at 10:10am and the most coverage, the 99.5 percent, will begin at 11:27am.
Q: Does it make a big difference going to a place in the path of totality as opposed to staying here in Boise for what you’re really going to see with the eclipse?
A: Oh, absolutely. That half percent makes the biggest difference in the world. When you reach that 100 percent coverage is when you can actually take off your eclipse glasses and look at the sun. The harmful portion of the light from the sun is blocked out. You get to see the amazing, sweeping arms of the corona and then you get to experience the day turning to night. It’s really worth it to go to the totality location!
Q: So it’s worth it to go to a place like Idaho Falls or Weiser then?
A: Absolutely, yes it is, although you’re going to have to plan ahead, because that’s where a lot of people are going, but it’s definitely worth it. You can head down to Cascade, there’s going to be some activity at Kelly’s Whitewater Park and some telescopes available to look through there. But as long as you’re in that path of totality, it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s what you’re looking for leading up to the experience and how far you’re willing to go and how many people you’re willing to deal with. The easier the location is to get to, the more people are going to go.
Q: Is the Boise Astronomical Society doing anything special for the eclipse?
A: As far as Eclipse Day goes, we will be up in Stanley, however Eclipse Day will be a personal event for everyone. The two nights leading up to Eclipse Day, the club will be putting on nightly public stargazing.
Q: So this is a very major event?
A: It is a very major event.
Q: Thank you Carol, for your insight into the eclipse.
The eclipse really will be a phenomonal event. So, from wherever you can view it, get some eclipse glasses and enjoy the only solar eclipse most of us can so easily enjoy.