OPINION: Physicist shares his plan to observe a solar eclipse

Editor’s note: Don Lincoln is a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He is an author Many scientific booksincluding his most recent works”Einstein’s Unfinished Dream: Practical Progress Towards a Theory of EverythingHe also produces a series of… Science education videos. follow him Facebook. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Scenery More opinion On CNN.


On Saturday morning, the dragon will eat the sun. If you are able, you should go out and see it; It will be an amazing sight.

Such poetic descriptions of solar eclipses can be seen in some of the oldest astronomical records, He coined By Chinese astronomers more than 4,000 years ago. In order to scare away the dragon and restore the natural order of things, people will do this Banging pans and screaming loudly. And it always worked. The dragon left the sun and the light returned.

Courtesy of Don Lincoln

Don Lincoln

Our modern understanding of the phenomenon of solar eclipse is more mechanical, including the movement of the moon, but even today, eclipses are a breathtaking experience. But, more than that, it is a human experience, one in which people around the world and across time can share a moment of cosmic wonder.

I saw my first solar eclipse on the school playground. It was winter, and the children were making snowmen, sliding down the hill and enjoying the cold air. The sky was absolutely perfect for viewing the eclipse. It was one of those overcast days with a thin layer of clouds letting in enough light so you could see the sun without squinting. The sun was a pale silver disc, surrounded by a light gray sky. As the moon began to pass in front of the sun, the children stopped to watch. The holiday extended that day, as the moon steadily eclipsed the sun, until all that remained of the sun was a silver crescent. Teachers and students alike joined together to enjoy the view.

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This first eclipse was only partial, and it would be many years before I saw a complete eclipse. Indeed, the first total solar eclipse I saw occurred In 2017. I booked the hotel a full year in advance. The location I chose was in southern Illinois, close to where I would be able to experience life Maximum duration of the eclipse And also close to a major highway intersection so I can move quickly, in case overcast skies threaten my plans.

But I was lucky. The sky was clear, and I stood in the hotel parking lot watching the moon cover the sun. When the eclipse began, I looked up through dark glasses. Then, the moment of totality came, and I took off my goggles. For a little over two and a half minutes, I experienced my first total eclipse, where I saw the darkened Sun, Solar corona And the strange color of the rest of the sky.

At that moment I was not a scientist. I was just someone fascinated by the astronomical display. I imagined what it must have been like for ancient people who had no understanding of celestial mechanics to see the sun disappear. It must have been a mixture of fear and religious awe.

For the record, I hit the pot just for good measure. The dragon was scared away. You’re welcome.

On Saturday, another eclipse will appear a A large part of the countryIt begins along the Oregon coast and moves through Texas before passing through parts of Central and South America. This will be a unique event. Instead of being a total eclipse, where the sun is completely obscured, it will be an annular eclipse. At the moment of maximum coverage, a thin ring of sunlight will surround the Moon – “Ring of fire” in the sky.

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An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is… furthest (or almost furthest) from Earth. Because it is more distant, it appears smaller and therefore does not completely block the Sun. But even that thin outer circle of sunlight is very bright, which means you should Be careful When watching the event, staring directly at the sun can lead to… Vision disrupted Or, in some cases, blindness. It is recommended that viewers use approved eclipse glasses or solar projectors for their protection.

If you are one of the lucky people who live under… Maximum coverage pathYou should definitely go out and search. But even for those of you who live in places where the moon coverage is only partial, it’s still worth your time to enjoy the view. Unless you are Eclipse chaserYou will only see a few eclipses in your life. Make sure you see this.

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As wonderful as this eclipse will be, Americans have another celestial event to look forward to to. On April 8, 2024 a Total eclipse It will start in the South Pacific and then pass through Mexico and across the United States, starting in Texas before heading toward Detroit, then over Montreal and out over the North Atlantic. I actually booked my hotel under the path of totality, again located at the crossroads of highways in case of unlucky cloud cover.

We live in a constant ebb and flow of work, family, chores and responsibilities. However, there are some events that are worth taking a moment to enjoy. I hope you, like millions before you, will stop what you are doing and turn your eyes to the sky. You won’t be sorry.

This piece has been updated with safety information about viewing the eclipse.

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