Solar eclipse 2017: USA to fall into darkness for first time in a century – when, where | Science | News

They ceased their belligerence and immediately signed a peace treaty. In 840AD Holy Roman Emperor Louis I, known as “the Pious”, “the Fair” and “the Debonair” died from the shock of experiencing an eclipse.

In ancient times the Babylonians believed eclipses were the wrath of the gods directed against their kings so when one was imminent they put a temporary king in place to take the hit for the real one.

It seems highly unlikely that on August 21 the pious, fair, debonair President Donald J Trump will be pacified, shocked to death or substituted.

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USA will experience a total solar eclipse on August 21

Nonetheless for millions of Americans it will be a day to remember. For the first time in a century a total eclipse of the sun will track its way across the United States, from Oregon to North Carolina, on the splendidly named “path of totality”.


A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears no relation to a total eclipse. It is like kissing a man rather than marrying him

Annie Dillard – Writer


Total eclipse occurs when the moon comes into a position where it masks Earth from the sun.

The sun is completely obscured, the sky goes dark and the temperature drops by 10 to 15 degrees.

But to see it you have to be directly under the path of totality, which is about 70 miles wide. If you are outside it you will see only a partial eclipse, a relatively piffling experience.

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Total eclipse occurs when the moon comes into a position where it masks Earth from the sun

That is why hordes from US and abroad are making journeys – short, long and sometimes epic – to get to the right place at the right time. And that time is very short. Here’s Carly Simon in her great song You’re So Vain, written in 1971: “Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia/To see the total eclipse of the sun/Well, you’re where you should be all the time…”

She means it as a sneer – “you fancy yourself, you spoil yourself and you always want to be smart” – but whoever he was he was a man who knew what’s what and what his Learjet was for (there was an eclipse in Nova Scotia in 1970).

Total eclipses happen roughly every 18 months but usually they are unseen: over oceans or in Earth’s inaccessible places.

In a famous magazine essay American writer Annie Dillard wrote a hymn to totality and makes it plain why you would want to be there: “I had seen a partial eclipse.

“A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relationship to a total eclipse.

“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane.

“Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.”

Total solar eclipseGETTY

The sun is completely obscured, the sky goes dark and the temperature drops by 10 to 15 degrees

Eclipse is the only time when we can see the sun’s corona: the superheated plasma that is usually obscured by the glare of the sun’s surface.

Now we see it as a wispy glow surrounding the moon. It is extremely beautiful.

We don’t know enough about it and there is much to learn.

Scientists will be out in force this month studying. NASA is sending two jets, once used to monitor space-shuttle launches, with high-speed video cameras to follow the path and capture the movements of the corona’s filaments.

Let us hope that the weather is kind. Those planes will fly above the clouds but for the earthbound a cloudy day will diminish or even kibosh the experience.

In August 1999 south Cornwall experienced totality. Patrick Moore was there for the BBC.

He had seen seven total eclipses but none with such a leaden sky. Speaking in front of rows of children, his tie and collar characteristically shambolic, he was asked by Michael Buerk if he had enjoyed it: “Well, in a way I did. The drop in the light level was quite amazing, more than I’ve ever known before.

“It was a strange, weird experience, one that in a way I’m glad to have been through but sorry we didn’t see what was quite clearly a magnificent solar corona.” 

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For the first time in a century a total eclipse of the sun will track its way across the USA

That’s one way of putting it. There will be others. If you have a distaste for the word “awesome” you would do well to keep well away.

It’s the only word a whole generation of Americans (and then some) have to describe almost anything even slightly unusual or good. What once was “remarkable” or “wonderful” and in hippy times was “mind-blowing” or “far out” (and you do have to admit the sun is literally far out) this August 21 will only be “awesome”.

For the most part the path of totality takes a rather mean path across the US, avoiding major centres of population.

It crosses Illinois but avoids Chicago although in Missouri parts of Kansas City and St Louis will get the benefit.

In Tennessee some outskirts of Nashville will register on it but much of its journey is scarcely inhabited. The average experience of totality will be just one or two minutes though the build-up and suspense is fairly “awesome” too.

Is God involved in putting on this show? Many believe He is although not those pesky American atheists who are holding their annual festival in Charleston, Carolina and will be blessed with two minutes 45 seconds of total eclipse, which is more than anywhere else.

That is not a miracle, as presumably they chose the date and venue themselves. In Kelly, Kentucky, which is on the path, the Little Green Men Day Festival is taking place.

This commemorates the occasion in 1955 when space aliens were said to have landed deep in America’s Bible belt.

The local pastor has said: “I don’t know whether the green men are coming back but I know the Son of Man is coming back.”

Writing of the 1133AD total eclipse in England, historian William of Malmesbury wrote: “The darkness was so great that people at first thought the world was ending.”

Well, it didn’t. But do you imagine that nowadays there could be such an event without it being interpreted as signalling Armageddon or apocalypse? Of course not. This is America.

On religious website Unsealed we learn that God is delivering a message coded round the number 33. The totality path begins in Oregon, the 33rd state, and leaves the US on the 33rd parallel; the last total eclipse crossing the country was 99 (33 x 3) years ago; chapter 33 of the book of Ezekiel says that those who have not heard the warning against sin will be destroyed.

This is just a tiny part of a web of theories that portend destruction of Earth.

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Remember to wear special glasses or you may go blind

The apocalypse may sound unattractive but it isn’t really bad news: tribulation (long, horrific punishment) is followed by the rapture (redemption).

Assuming for a moment this does not come to pass, here is some good news although probably only for younger readers.

If you’re in Cornwall on September 23 you will be able to experience totality.

That’s September 23, 2090. And remember to wear special glasses or you may go blind.

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