Tag Archives: solar eclipse

In the Shadow of the Moon

I guess this is where I’m supposed to describe the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of August 21. The problem is, I can’t. I’ve been attempting to come up with words that would give the event its props and, I’ll admit, I’m coming up short.

Camp Ondessonk. Online photo from Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc.

I’ve been asked many times “How were things in Carbondale?” I didn’t go to Carbondale. That venue was a bit overcrowded for me. My and CU Astronomical Society colleagues and I descended on Camp Ondessonk, near Ozark, Illinois. The Catholic youth camp was previously directed by my brother-in-law, and my kids spent a lot of time there. We set up telescopes in an impressive row in a horse pasture, meaning you had to pay close attention to where you erected your tent! We had numerous telescopes from CUAS, the twin city group from Bloomington-Normal, and University of Illinois students. And my daughter made the trip from Chicago to go with us.

We arrived Saturday morning to avoid traffic, and my wife and daughter took part in some of the camp’s amenities like archery, hiking, and craft-making. Carl Wenning (ISU) and I did three workshops each on Sunday, and Carl did a keynote after dinner. The food was awesome! They treated us well! Stargazing was a bit disappointing as we were greeted with heavy dew and clouds both Saturday and Sunday night. But the main event was Monday.

The observing field (half of it anyway). Photo by Dave Leake.

We all smiled as we opened our tents Monday morning, greeted by blue skies with a few clouds. I did two radio interviews via cell phone before breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning setting up equipment. Our camp director said that with the influx of “Monday only” traffic (no overnight accommodations), he expected 800 people in the camp. I used my telescope to project an image of the Sun, about a foot in diameter, on a poster board. It was here that I shouted, “first contact” to the group right at 11:53 a.m.

The partial eclipse as projected by a colander. Photo by Dave Leake.

We watched as the Moon seemed to consume a wonderful sunspot group on the Sun’s face. People used pegboards, mailing tubes, and even colanders to project the partial eclipse.

As the Moon overtook the Sun, everything seemed “weird!” It is difficult to articulate! Shadows became sharper and the countryside took on a pale appearance as if it were twilight, but it was everywhere (not just one direction) and the Sun was high in the sky! It got darker and cooler. At the first diamond ring, a roar came from the crowd and there was applause as we bathed in the Moon’s shadow. The horizons stayed relatively bright, but the sky overhead darkened and Venus became brilliant. Jupiter was visible east of the Sun.

Eclipse totality at Ozark, Illinois. Photo by Saiko Rosenberger.

Some colleagues began snapping photos. I did not. This was my first total eclipse and I was advised just to watch. That was great advice. It was an emotional scene:

  • My daughter was there, with whom I had shared telescopic views of Saturn when she was just a tyke. She spent seven years as a camper here, so this was a homecoming for her.
  • Chuck Greenwood was there from Florida; he was Staerkel Planetarium’s show producer when I started. We presented shows together for 12 years. Frank Oriold was there from St. Charles. Frank and I were in the UI Astro Club together in 1981 and I had not seen him in years. Mike Rosenberger was there with his wife. Mike and I co-founded CUAS back in 1986—a lifelong friend.
  • And I was wearing my dad’s eclipse T-shirt. I lost him in 2015. The coronal streamers were nothing short of spectacular and the Moon’s perimeter took on a pearl white color. He would have loved this!

My wife kept a timer on her phone and, at 2.5 minutes, I yelled “have your glasses ready!” The second diamond ring was more dramatic than the first. The Sun’s brilliant light appeared as a point that grew in size. Given the high ice crystal clouds in the area, the point was surrounded by brilliant colors and the crowd gasped. Afterwards, club members gathered and either hugged or provided a “high five.” It was only 2.5 minutes but it will be etched in our memories forever!

The next eclipse in the area will be April 8, 2024. I hope I’m around for it. What an amazing experience! I didn’t even mind the 6.5-hour drive home!

[David Leake is director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College.]

Night in the Middle of Day

***Accommodations in southern Illinois are a hot commodity right now, filling up fast to see the August solar eclipse described below! Securing your reservations now at the Ondessonk Camp might be a good idea (It’s first come, first served), so we’re giving this blog post a very early send-out.***

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There are many experiences in nature that make you go “wow!” Maybe it is your first view of the Grand Canyon, or the ocean, or even a rainbow. But what is it about an eclipse of the Sun that draws so many people? Why do some “eclipse chasers” travel thousands of miles to see an event that can, at most, last seven and a half minutes?

If you are curious, you will get your chance this August, with very little travel required. On Monday, August 21 at 11:53 a.m., the Moon will begin to cover the Sun. The Moon will be completely in front of our Sun at 1:20 p.m., and “totality” will only last two minutes and forty seconds.

However, to see this total solar eclipse, you must travel southward. You need to be in the Moon’s shadow, which begins in Oregon and travels through the Midwest, on to South Carolina. This is the first coast-to-coast eclipse in our country since 1918! It is estimated that over 12 million people will either be in the eclipse’s path (including Kansas City and St. Louis) or will travel to the path.

Eclipse Explained
But what’s going on in August? Why is this happening? The Moon takes 29.5 days to orbit our Earth, which is our basis for our month, or “moonth.” During New Moon, the Moon is in the same area of the sky as our Sun, hence we only see the dark, unlit side of the Moon. The Moon’s orbit, however, is tilted five degrees to the Earth’s orbit.

To put this in perspective, if you hold out your fist at arm’s length and close one eye, one fist is about ten degrees. So a “half-fist” doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough that the Moon usually appears to pass above or below the Sun each month. This is why we don’t have solar eclipses at every New Moon and lunar eclipses at ever Full Moon. The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun but it is also 400 times closer to us. Thus the Sun and the Moon appear to be the same size in our sky.

During times that the Moon does cut across the face of the Sun, the shadow of the Moon crosses the Earth, and those in the path will experience this grand event. There will be an eclipse this coming February 26 but you have to be in far southern South America or South Central Africa to see it. Which bring us to August 21.

How to View the Eclipse
If you want to see the eclipse, you must take precautions, as the Sun exhibits a blinding light. If you stay in Champaign County, 93 percent of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. While this is significant, 7 percent of the Sun will still blind you. There are several safe ways to observe the eclipse. The easiest is to locate some mylar eclipse glasses. The Staerkel Planetarium has these glasses for sale at $1 per pair. You are also safe if you have a #14 welder’s glass.

If you own a telescope, you can point the telescope at the Sun by using the telescope’s shadow. When the telescope is roughly aligned with the Sun, the shadow of the tube will look like a circle on the ground. Do NOT look through the telescope, but put a white index card roughly 6-8 inches behind the eyepiece and project an image of the Sun. Be wary of solar filters that thread into the telescope’s eyepiece! Here you are filtering the Sun at the point where the Sun’s brilliance is being focused. If the filter cracks, your eyesight is at severe risk. Appropriate solar filters attenuate the Sun’s glare before it enters the telescope.

There is also the age-old method of a pinhole camera. Hold two pieces of cardboard roughly 2-3 feet apart and put a pinhole in the sheet nearest the Sun. You should see an image of the Sun on the second sheet. Better yet, use a peg board!

Seeing the Total Eclipse: An Observing Opportunity
If you want to see the total eclipse and not a partial, you will have to head south. But where do you go? The maximum duration of this eclipse occurs near Carbondale. Good luck finding lodging in Carbondale! Any that might be available will be sold at an, shall we say, “inflated” rate. The University of Illinois Astronomy Department will set up shop in Goreville, south of Marion, Illinois.

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium is partnering with the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society and Twin City Amateur Astronomers (from Bloomington-Normal) to offer a weekend of observing from Camp Ondessonk (https://ondessonk.com), a Catholic youth camp located southeast of Marion and just south of Ozark, Illinois. The camp can provide rustic lodging and all meals for $115 per person. CUAS and TCAA will provide educational workshops on Sunday, the day before the eclipse, plus a dark-sky star party on Sunday night (weather permitting). Meals will be served in the camp dining hall. Tent camping is also allowed. If you would like to join us on our eclipse trek, you need to register by August 1. Point your web browser to https://ondessonk.com/event/2017-great-american-eclipse-event/ for more information. The planetarium will not be accepting registrations and there will be no event at the planetarium on the day of the eclipse.

Let’s hope for clear weather! IF we miss this event, the next “Great American Eclipse” will be on April 8, 2024!

The planetarium will be including information about the eclipse during our Friday night “Prairie Skies” star show. For more information on this event and how to observe it, go to the Staerkel Planetarium’s website and click on the image of the solar eclipse.

[Dave Leake is director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium.]

Image from NASA.gov, with credit: Steve Albers, Boulder, CO; Dennis DiCicco, Sky and Telescope; Gary Emerson, E. E. Barnard Observatory