NEW HAVEN >> Millions of Americans will attempt to see “one of nature’s most spectacular events” Aug. 21 when the moon passes directly between the Earth and sun, fully or partially blocking the sun.
That means people across Connecticut and the country will attend eclipse-themed parties with music, crafts and games and visit local community centers, museums, observatories and parks, donning safety solar glasses or using special telescopes, to view the first visible total solar eclipse from the U.S. in over 25 years.
Some people, known as “eclipse chasers,” who plan their entire lives, and potentially income, around these “remarkable cosmic coincidences” will travel hundreds of miles and go to great lengths just to witness again “one of nature’s more awe inspiring sights.”
During totality, the light of the sun is dimmed to about the same brightness as the full moon, allowing bright stars and planets to be easily seen. For this reason, the sun’s outer atmosphere, or solar corona, can be seen as well. Without a total eclipse, the corona is too faint to be seen against the background of light produced by the solar disc, according to Yale University Astronomy Professor Robert Zinn.
Just before and after totality, the diamond ring effect and Baily’s beads may be seen, Zinn said. During the diamond ring effect, there is a ring of light around the moon and a very bright spot on the ring, “the diamond,” where a tiny part of the sun is not covered by the moon. Baily’s beads, meanwhile, are bright spots on the limb (edge) of the moon where sunlight is streaming down one or more of the moon’s valleys.
During a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon is cast on the Earth. The shadow moves rapidly, approximately 1,000 miles per hour, from west to east on the Earth’s surface in a narrow band about 70 miles wide, he said.
Observers from Salem, Ore. to Charleston, S.C. will be inside the band or the “path of totality,” allowing them to see a total solar eclipse as the moon will completely cover the sun’s disc.
However, only a partial eclipse will be visible from Connecticut, meaning the solar corona, diamond ring effect and Baily’s beads cannot be seen. Nonetheless, Zinn said a partial eclipse is still worth observing because people can see the moon covering different amounts of the solar disc as the eclipse proceeds.
In New Haven, the eclipse will begin at 1:25 p.m. when the moon starts to cover part of the sun’s disc. The covered part will continue to grow to 68 percent by 2:45 p.m.
While there will be noticeably less sunlight at that time compared to a normal day in August, the sunlight will be too bright for planets or stars to be seen. After reaching the apogee, the amount of the sun’s disc that is covered will diminish until the eclipse ends at 4 p.m.
According to Dr. Alexus McLeod, an associate philosophy professor at the University of Connecticut, in ancient times societies would sometimes view the “unusual events in the sky” such as solar eclipses as prophecies, signaling “a positive or negative omen for rulers.” However, he said it often “was an attempt to make sense of the natural world in a way that would give it significance in a human community and culture.”
Zinn described total solar eclipses as “rare events” with the next one being visible from the continental U.S. on April 8, 2024. He said while astronomers have observatories that are designed to make detailed observations of the sun, “it is still of scientific value to make observations during a total solar eclipse.”
Yale University’s Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, 355 Prospect St., will offer viewing for Connecticut’s partial solar eclipse. Beginning at 1 p.m., the event offers observation through solar telescopes and eclipse glasses, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis, as well as a live video feed of the total solar eclipse.
Other locations where the partial solar eclipse can be viewed include:
• Connecticut Science Center – 250 Columbus Blvd., Hartford, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• White Memorial Conservation Center – 80 Whitehall Road, Litchfield, 1 to 3 p.m.
• Stepping Stones Museum for Children – 303 West Ave., Norwalk, 1 to 5 p.m.
• Ballard Park – 485 Main St., Ridgefield, 1 to 4 p.m.
• Westport Astronomical Society – 182 Bayberry Lane, Westport, 1:15 to 3:45 p.m.
• The Children’s Museum – 950 Trout Brook Drive, West Hartford , 1:20 to 4 p.m.
• John J. McCarthy Observation – 388 Danbury Road, New Milford, 1 to 4 p.m.
• Van Vleck Observatory at Wesleyan University – 96 Foss Hill, Middletown, 1 to 4:30 p.m.
Most of these locations will have properly filtered telescopes and binoculars. Zinn said “under no circumstances should [people] view the sun without taking precautions.” Sunglasses, even the darkest ones, are not safe as they let in too much sunlight, he said. One of the only safe ways to look at the uneclipsed or partially-eclipsed sun is with “eclipse glasses” or handheld solar viewers, which have specifically made filters.
However, it is no longer sufficient to just look for the logo of the International Organization for Standardization and a label indicating the product meets the ISO 12312-2 international safety standards. Some companies are printing the ISO logo and certification label on fake eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers results on their websites to support their claim of compliance with the ISO safety standards, according to the American Astronomical Society. The only way to be sure the solar viewer is safe is to verify that it comes from a reputable manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers.
“While NASA isn’t trying to be the eclipse safety-glasses ‘police,’ it’s our duty to inform the public about safe ways to view what should be a spectacular sky show for the entire continental United States,” said Alex Young, associate director for science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s important that individuals take the responsibility to check they have the proper solar eclipse viewing glasses.”
An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially-eclipsed sun is with a pinhole projector. With this method, sunlight streams through a small hole onto a makeshift screen like a piece of paper or the ground. Zinn said looking at the projected image of the sun is perfectly safe.
However, failure to follow these guidelines can be dangerous as viewing the sun directly, even for brief periods, can cause permanent damage to the retina and result in blindness, said Dr. Russell Van Gelder, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Van Gelder explained that the lenses in a person’s eyes act like a magnifying glass five times more powerful than a handheld one. People use a typical handheld magnifier to focus the sun to burn holes in paper, so when they look at the sun without proper eye protection, they focus the sun’s light on the retina, burning holes and therefore causing blindness.
“The complete solar eclipse is a wonderful and memorable phenomenon that should be experienced by everyone in the eclipse path,” he said. “It is essential, however, that viewing is done safely.”