Here's an early stage of what you'll see Aug. 21 during a total solar eclipse. (Courtesy photo)
Here's an early stage of what you'll see Aug. 21 during a total solar eclipse. (Courtesy photo)
By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
For stargazers, next Monday promises an event of a lifetime.
For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will pass across the entire United States on Aug. 21, creating a spectacular sight for communities nationwide, including south Pierce County.
Around here, the eclipse will take place from 9:08 to 11:38 a.m. It won’t be a total eclipse for all of us, but 94 percent of the sun will ultimately be blocked during the height of the celestial event at 10:20.
Special equipment will be necessary to view the sun during the eclipse to avoid damaging your eyes. Tom and Gracie Pauley, who own and run the private Starry Hill Observatory near Eatonville, recommend buying special eclipse glasses online and doing it soon if you haven’t already, “since they may be harder to get” closer to the big day.
Washington, like most of the Northwest, isn’t going to witness an eclipse in quite all of its glory. Parts of Oregon will, however, experience a total eclipse. That’s because in the U.S., the full-eclipse path goes west to east through the middle of Oregon and all the way to South Carolina. Otherwise, the partial eclipse that can be seen from here and elsewhere will result in more than 90 percent of the sun’s light being blotted out at the eclipse’s darkest. The remaining light will be enough to keep the day from temporarily turning completely into night, according to the Pauleys and Starry Hill, a non-profit, education-oriented organization.
To help explain eclipses, the Parkland-Spanaway branch of Pierce County Library System will host an "eclipse story time" Aug. 18 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for kids and adults of all ages.
On the day of the eclipse, one prime viewing spot in Pierce County could be the Pierce College campus in Lakewood. The college’s Science Dome will host free festivities from 8:30 to noon, including presentations about what a solar eclipse is, why they appear when they do, and why you need to be in certain locations to view total eclipses.
Regardless of where you watch, here are what Starry Hill Observatory calls “cool facts” to go along with the experience:
•The moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun in diameter and 400 times closer to us than the sun. This makes both moon and sun virtually the same angular size in our sky.
• The moon and the sun follow nearly identical paths in our sky. The moon is about 12 times faster than the sun, giving us 12 months in a year.
• At every New Moon, the moon catches up to the sun in our sky and then passes it. About every 18 months, the moon passes directly in front of the sun at a New Moon. This creates a dark shadow somewhere on Earth; the umbra, as the effect is called, can be up to 166 miles in diameter but usually much smaller. Those within the umbra can experience a total solar eclipse. The last time that happened in the Pacific Northwest was in 1979.
• Total solar eclipses on Earth happen no where else in the solar system.