7 weird (but awe-inspiring!) things that happen during a total solar eclipse
Darkness will surround us in the middle of the day, bats will come out of nowhere and “anti-shadows” will dance across the earth. Not everyone knows about all the truly bizarre things that will happen during the August 21 total solar eclipse. But those who do consider it one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth.
On average, any given place on earth will experience a total eclipse only once every 375 years. We haven’t been able to witness “totality” (hint: you'll sound like a hip insider if you say it that way) from the U.S. mainland since 1979 - and the next will be in 2024. And less than 1% of North America will experience it.
Many of the bizarre phenomena only occur during totality, which will only last up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds. So if you aren’t ready to look for them, you may actually miss some of the most awe-inspiring experiences.
(Important tip: Wear AAS certified eclipse glasses to view the eclipse! There's also no guarantee your vision insurance will cover the damage you might do to your eyes. Check out NASA’s Eclipse 101 for safety tips and a list of certified glasses.)
Here's 7 weird (but awe-inspiring!) things to look for:
1) It starts with an extraordinary coincidence. It just happens that the sun and moon are the exact right distance from the earth to appear the same size (even though the moon is 400 times smaller). This makes it possible for the moon to completely block the sun but not the radiation and geysers of flames that surround the sun.
2) Animals will get confused. As the sky completely blackens, animals will think it’s night. Birds may go to roost. Crickets and cicadas may begin to chirp. Ants may stop in their tracks. And bats and mosquitoes will take flight.
3) The air will instantly chill. During totality, the temperature can drop by as much as 20 degrees.
4) The moon’s shadow will race across the ground. This one only happens if you’re on a mountaintop or if the land is flat for miles. In the minutes before & after totality, you’ll see the shadow - called the umbra (tip: you may want to work that into your daily speech!) racing toward you and then away. You’ll also be able to see light on the horizon where the sun is still shining miles away.
5) Strange lights will dance across the ground. When the moon is partially covering the sun, hundreds of crescents of light will appear in trees’ shadows. The gaps between the leaves act like pinhole cameras and project the sun’s image on the ground. Then 60 to 90 seconds before & after totality, you’ll see shadow bands on light-colored surfaces. These alternating dark and light bands appear like undulating waves of light in a pool and are caused by the remaining slivers of sunlight passing through layers of turbulent air in Earth’s atmosphere.
6) The stars will suddenly come out and you will see Mercury - probably for the only time in your life. 4 of the 5 planets that don’t require a telescope as well as Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, can all be seen during an eclipse. Most amazingly, you’ll see Venus and Mercury as two bright lights near the sun. Mercury is so close to the sun that it is usually invisible to us because of the sun’s glare.
7) You can see what’s happening around the sun and on its surface. Because the moon exactly covers the sun, light will glimmer through the mountains on its surface. This effect, called Baily’s beads or the diamond ring effect, also might allow you (fingers crossed) to see geysers that erupt from the sun’s surfaces called prominences. And you will be able to see the chromosphere (the red-colored region closest to the Sun). Most spectacular of all is the corona, the wispy outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere - only visible during a total solar eclipse. The corona is plasma being pulled by the Sun’s powerful magnetic field into curving, ethereal fluorescent lines. (Okay, can you tell we’re a little excited?)
Whether you find a location to view the total solar eclipse or only get to see a partial one, you’ll experience extraordinary scenery with saturated colors, boosted contrast, sharp shadows and crescent-shaped lights on the ground. And you might feel the absence of infrared radiation and ultraviolet energy.
But it’s definitely worth traveling to experience the total solar eclipse and all the bizarre phenomena that you may never get to see again!
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