June 22, 2017
An astronomer at Saint Vincent College is planning to provide an opportunity for area residents to join millions of Americans in witnessing the moon moving in between the Earth and the sun to view a partial solar eclipse from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21 in the entrance plaza of the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion on campus.
The eclipse, which will begin in Westmoreland County at 1:10 p.m. and end at 3:55 p.m. that day, will occur when the sun will be eclipsed by the moon. The maximum eclipse will occur at 2:35 p.m. when approximately 80 percent of the sun will be blocked.
“Safe, projected viewing opportunities will be available in the plaza,” advised Dr. John J. Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs, academic dean and assistant professor of astronomy. “Eclipse glasses with special solar filters will also be available. We remind area residents to never look directly at the sun, even with normal sunglasses, since this can cause serious and permanent eye damage. To safely view the eclipse, use a pinhole projector or specially made solar filter eclipse glasses.”
Outdoor viewing will be moved into the college’s observatory and Angelo J. Taiani Planetarium in case of inclement weather.
Smetanka is giving talks about the eclipse at 13 Westmoreland County libraries during June and July, some of which are also planning to provide viewing opportunities.
The partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will be the first solar eclipse visible from the continental United States since 1972. It will be the first total solar eclipse only visible from United States soil since long before the founding of the United States.
According to NASA, only 14 states in the United States are in the path of totality and will be able to experience a total solar eclipse. These include Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“The history of eclipses starts with Thales of Miletus who predicted an eclipse in 585 BC,” Smetanka said. “Babylonians and Chinese astronomers kept accurate tables of eclipses as far back as 2500 BC. Repeating patterns allowed some eclipses to be predicted even earlier than Thales’ prediction. That eclipse stopped a war between the Medians and the Lydians. Because this event was recorded by historians, we know the date very accurately and the eclipse was used to calibrate historical records to our modern calendar. Many ancient cultures took eclipses as bad omens that portended death and destruction. Myths in various cultures said that frogs, bears or dragons ate the sun during an eclipse. Even today, some cultures fear eclipses even though there is no scientific basis. Observations of stars near the sun during the eclipse of 1919 confirmed Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”
The next U.S. solar eclipse will occur on April 8, 2024. Future eclipses will occur on Aug. 12, 2045, March 30, 2052, May 11, 2078, May 1, 2079 and Sept. 14, 2099.
Photo: Partial solar eclipse
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