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News in Youth Services

Monday, August 14, 2017

Solar Eclipse of the Heart

August 21 is a big day throughout America.  No, the kids are not going back to school (but almost).  On this big day, being referred to by some as the "Great American Eclipse," the sun will disappear for a few minutes across the entire continental United States.  In some parts of the country, the sun will completely disappear behind the moon.

 "So what's the big deal?"  The big deal is that a total solar eclipse hasn't been seen from our soil in 38 years! "Why should I be excited?"  Well, give me a few moments and I'll tell you why.

A solar eclipse is when the moon passes in front of the Sun, blocking out its light.  The Sun is 94 million miles away from us.  The moon is only a fraction of the size of the Sun, but the Sun's distance allows the moon to block out the Sun's rays across a small portion of the surface of the Earth.  

"Why is this so rare?"  Well, there are two reasons.  First, the moon has to be in the "new
New moon phase
moon" phase, which positions the moon between the Earth and the Sun.  Due to this position, we see the "dark side of the moon" (no, not the Pink Floyd album) and it looks to be invisible.   July 23 was the last new moon before the August 21 eclipse.

"But the moon phases occur about every 29.5 days, so why don't eclipses happen more often?"  Boy, you have an inquisitive mind!  It has something to do with the tilt of the moon's orbit with respect to the Earth.  Ever wonder why the moon seems to be in a different spot every day?  This has to do with the moon's orbit and the Earth's seasonal orbital "wobbles" which happens so that we can have seasons.  But typically, twice a year the two orbits line up just right and an eclipse occurs.  If you are lucky enough to see it, it's a beautiful sight.   Remember the last time we saw a total eclipse here in the U.S. was 38 years ago.

Do NOT look directly at the sun at any time during the eclipse unless you are wearing the special eclipse glasses. Sunglasses are not enough protection!  The eclipse cannot be viewed through binoculars or telescopes because these devices intensify the Sun's light and will harm your eyes.  You need to have a certified solar filter to fit your device and you need to know how to use it. 

More eclipse information
Eclipse viewing safety

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