LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Once In A Lifetime

As a 72-year-old, I sure didn’t want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime Great American Solar Eclipse. So I went to our local library around the corner — Hennepin County Public Library on York in Edina — along with nearly 1,000 other like-minded Metro area people from infants in push chairs to seniors in wheelchairs.

It was totally fun. Even the long line to wait to get into the library was made interesting with conversations with folks like Adolf, who lives in Bloomington for four months of the year but goes to Florida to play golf with all his buddies.

Once inside, all the chairs were taken. Three kind young Edina high school students — Karsten Swanson, Addie McCuskey and Nora Clarkowski — scooted together and gave me one of their seats.

Solar eclipse photo, courtest www.lucnix.be.
Solar eclipse photo, courtest www.lucnix.be.

Nick Skuza, an educational assistant from the Bell Museum of Natural History and fourth-year Astro Physics major at the University of Minnesota, gave a presentation before guiding the crowd went outside. There he guided viewers to see the eclipse through a telescope.

His colleague, Kaitlin Ehret, also a Bell Museum educational assistant, showed young and old how to view the eclipse for those without eclipse glasses by using a Sunspotter, a devise that showed the eclipse on a piece of paper.

Many parents attended the free event with their children, who had made pinhole boxes to view the eclipse.

Like I said, it was totally fun. And I didn’t even have the proper glasses. Although the library staff handed out a good supply — about 200 — and many people brought their own, the majority of us didn’t have them. Not to worry. People were incredibly gracious and kind sharing their glasses with anyone who asked or didn’t! One little tyke, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, was randomly handing out his glasses for others to see.

Wow, it was a coming together like I haven’t seen in a long time! No one talked politics. Maybe that was it. Everyone was focused on the one thing they had in common: a keen desire to witness a once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomenon.

The next solar eclipse over the United States will be in 2024. After that? 2045. Then 2052, 2078, and, for my great-grandchildren, a great one over Maine in 2079.

What Is A Solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse is a natural event that takes place on Earth when the moon moves in its orbit between Earth and the sun (this is also known as an occultation). It happens at new moon, when the sun and moon are in conjunction with each other. If the moon was only slightly closer to Earth, and orbited in the same plane and its orbit was circular, we would see eclipses each month. The lunar orbit is elliptical and tilted with respect to Earth’s orbit, so we can only see up to five eclipses per year. Depending on the geometry of the sun, moon and Earth, the Sun can be totally blocked, or it can be partially blocked.

During an eclipse, the moon’s shadow (which is divided into two parts: the dark umbra and the lighter penumbra) moves across Earth’s surface. Safety note: do NOT ever look at the Sun directly during an eclipse unless it is during a total solar eclipse. The bright light of the Sun can damage your eyes very quickly.

Facts About Solar Eclipses

  • Depending on the geometry of the sun, moon, and Earth, there can be between two and five e solar eclipses each year.
  • Totality occurs when the moon completely obscures sun so only the solar corona is showing.
  • A total solar eclipse can happen once every one to two years. This makes them very rare events.
  • The longest a total solar eclipse can last is 7.5 minutes.
  • The width of the path of totality is usually about 160 kilometers across and can sweep across an area of Earth’s surface about 10,000 miles long.
  • Almost identical eclipses occur after 18 years and 11 days. This period of 223 synodic months is called a saros.
  • During a total solar eclipse, conditions in the path of totality can change quickly. Air temperatures drop and the immediate area becomes dark.
  • If any planets are in the sky at the time of a total solar eclipse, they can be seen as points of light.

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