The Great American Solar Eclipse

By Peri Jones

On the 21st August 2017, the Moon covered the Sun in the sky across America for the first time in 26 years. For the past few years, ‘America 2017’ had been a common topic in the Jones household. Once the flights were booked, there was no turning back. Find out what a total solar eclipse is, how it happens and what it’s like to experience it with your own eyes.

Credit to NASA

A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon moves across the Sun and blocks out the sunlight reaching the Earth. However, this only happens in a few areas on Earth and this year it was happening across the USA. Solar eclipses can be found across the planet once every 18 months or so. This phenomenon happens due to the perfect ratio of the Sun’s distance and diameter (width) with the Moon’s diameter and distance from the Earth. Just as a reminder, the Moon travels around the Earth every 27 days and the Earth moves around the Sun every 365 days. But why don’t we have an eclipse every 27 days? And why does it happen in a different location on Earth each time?

Credit to NASA

The Moon travels around the Earth in an ellipse (like an oval shape) which means it can sometimes look brighter in the sky when it is at its closest (perigee) and dimer when it’s further away (apogee). The Moon’s orbit is also at an angle as shown in the picture on the right. So to have the Moon at the perfect distance from the Earth to block the Sun, despite it being 400 times bigger than the moon, is an amazing coincidence.

Image of Peri wearing her solar glasses to look at the sun.

Although I have seen a partial solar eclipse in Cardiff in 2015, whereby 80% of sunlight was blocked by the moon, nothing compares to a total solar eclipse. At 10:24 am on August the 21st at Guernsey National Park, Wyoming, we had first contact. This is when the Moon is first seen crossing in front of the Sun. This was very exciting, the Sun was bright and the sky was completely clear. After 35 minutes the Moon was close to covering half of the Sun, and it was visibly getting dimer and colder. We each had a camera, with appropriate solar filters, to take photos of the Sun. We also had solar glasses which also protected our eyes when we looked at the Sun. It was, and always is, very important to NEVER look directly at the Sun!

As it came close to totality, when the Moon fully eclipses the Sun, the Sun was looking ever so thin and crescent. It was weirdly quite eerie, looking as if someone had switched the lights down. Just before totality, the camera filters were off and in a matter of seconds, the whole sky went from light to dark with a 360° sunset. Finally, the Sun was fully blocked, with only the corona showing. The corona is the outer layer of the sun and is only visible to the naked eye during a solar eclipse.

Totality. Captured by and credited to my brother, David Lewis Jones 21/08/2017

Describing a total solar eclipse is very difficult. It is not easily comparable to anything I have ever witnessed. Looking directly up to the Sun, seeing a bright ring surrounded by darkness is just incredible. Before seeing it with my own eyes, I had seen pictures which I actually thought were processed or fake. After the eclipse and looking at our own photos, it still looks too perfect to be real. It truly is an incredible sight and an incredible phenomenon that everyone should try to catch at least once in their life!

For us in the UK, the last total solar eclipse was on 11th August 1999 and unfortunately the next total solar eclipse will be on the 23rd September 2090!

After seeing one, I am now on a mission to see more. For anyone that fancies a bit of travelling, these are a few key dates to pencil into your diary:

2nd July 2019 – Total Solar Eclipse from the South Pacific Ocean across central Chile and Argentina.

14th December 2020 – Total Solar Eclipse from the South Pacific Ocean across central Chile and Argentina.

8th April 2024– Total Solar Eclipse across from Mexico northwards across Central America. In the south of the state of Illinois, the path of totality will cross the same region for both the 2017 and 2024 which is very rare and exciting.

12th August 2026 – Total Solar Eclipse across the west of Iceland and moves southwards and crosses the north of Spain.

For more information about other lunar, total and annular solar eclipses, visit https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/list.html


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