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Weird Things Happen With a Total Solar Eclipse

By Rick Boozer on Friday August 18th, 2017

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Turn Your Eyes Toward the Sky

Everyone talks about how visually stunning it is when the darkened moon fully covers the face of the sun in a total solar eclipse. And indeed, it is. But there are other unusual, truly strange happenings that occur when the moon passes in front of the sun. If you aren’t prepared to look for them, some of these weird phenomena are so fleeting that you can miss them. Following are descriptions of a number of those novel occurrences to be looked for on August 21st.

Long before totality (when the moon is only covering part of the sun’s face), go to a nearby tree and look in the shade of the tree’s shadow. You will see hundreds of crescent images of the partially covered sun all over the ground! In fact, this is a safe way to view all the partial phases of the eclipse without harming your eyes. Where do all these many images come from? The gaps between the tree’s leaves act like a pinhole camera by projecting the sun’s image on the ground.
A total solar eclipseStrange things occur when the darkened moon covers the face of the sun.

Anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds before totality or just after totality ends, closely look at any flat light-colored or white surfaces around you. You may see a very strange sight. At such times, dark lines called ‘shadow bands’ may be seen racing back and forth across the surfaces.

These shadowy lines are caused by sunlight peeking around mountains and through valleys around the outer rim of the moon, while turbulence in the air makes them appear to shift position. In the minutes before totality, all of your surroundings will appear dimly lit in a very strange and different way from what you experience at sunrise or sunset. Everything will seem somewhat similar to what you see when you wear very dark sunglasses, but with a kind of surreal sheen that can’t be described adequately.

As soon as the moon entirely covers the sun and causes the sky to completely blacken, the air will instantly chill, perhaps by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Animals will become confused. Bats may fly around thinking it is night. Birds may go to roost. Crickets or cicadas may begin to chirp.

Crescent shadowsShadows take on the shape of the crescent sun as it’s covered by the moon.

If the land is flat for miles around your location or you are on a mountain top, you will be able to see the darkest part of the moon’s shadow (called the umbra) racing across the ground towards you just before totality and away from you afterwards.

An instant before the sun’s disk is completely covered by the moon, you should experience the visually stunning ‘diamond ring effect’. The slight bit of sun remaining will give the impression of a brilliant diamond with the ring being a faint glow around the darkened moon.

It is important to note that the brief few minutes of totality is the only time it is safe to look directly at the sun with no eye protection. If you are wearing special eclipse glasses, take them off when the moon completely covers the sun. But be sure to put them back on if you continue looking at the sun as soon as totality is finished.

It will become dark as night during totality. The stars will pop out and you will see two very bright points of light near the sun. They are really the planets Venus and Mercury. Most people never get to see Mercury because it is usually so close to the sun that it is blotted out by the sun’s glare. Mars and Jupiter will make an appearance. Those two planets will seem to be near the sun, when in reality they will be much farther away on the far opposite sides of their orbits. In total, four of the five planets that don’t require a telescope can be seen during the eclipse.

Sirius, the Dog Star, will show itself as the very bright star to the southwest of the sun. In fact Sirius is the second brightest star in our sky after the sun.

The diamond ring effectThe diamond ring effect occurs at the beginning and end of totality.

If we are lucky, there will be eruptions from the sun that cannot be seen at any other time. These eruptions are called ‘prominences’ and will glow a bright, beautiful ruby red color.

The bluish white glowing corona (outer atmosphere of the sun) is made of charged hydrogen atoms, or plasma. During totality, the corona allows us to see the beautiful structure of the sun’s powerful magnetic field as the plasma is pulled by magnetism into graceful curving field lines. As pretty as this image is, no photo can capture the almost ethereal fluorescent hue that you will see when looking directly at the corona. Also, notice that you can see red prominences in this image near the bottom of the sun.

I hope this description of strange eclipse phenomena has piqued your interest and raised your excitement level about the upcoming total solar eclipse.

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Words By Rick Boozer

Originally posted on Astromaven, Blog of Rick Boozer, Astrophysicist

 

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