Partial Eclipse Coming to Lexington

Video courtesy of the National Weather Service.

LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 10, 2017—It’s been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and understandably so.

On Aug. 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will race across the United States, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. Within the path of totality, day will turn to night, temperatures will drop as much as 20 degrees, and stars will appear as the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow on the Earth.

Though Lexington is not in the path of totality, if the skies are clear, viewers here in the Shenandoah Valley can still expect an impressive show. 

“Due to its location, Lexington will see a partial eclipse with about 87 percent of the surface of the sun obscured. It will begin on Aug. 21 at 1:13 p.m., will reach maximum at 2:40 p.m., and will end at 4:01 p.m.,” said Col. Greg Topasna, professor of physics and astronomy at VMI. Topasna went on to explain, “the sky will appear darker, although I don't expect a significant temperature change.”

With the midday sun high in the sky, almost anywhere in the Lexington area will be a good place to view the partial eclipse. Here at VMI, the Parade Ground will provide an excellent vantage point with few trees to obscure the sky. The Natural Bridge State Park is also opening the old Foamhenge site for a viewing party from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Just be sure to wear proper eye protection, as the protection provided by sunglasses is not adequate. Even when it is partially covered by the moon, the sun will cause eye damage when viewed directly.  Solar glasses that are ISO and CE certified are the only safe protection for looking directly at the eclipse.

A creative solution for viewing the eclipse is projecting the sun onto a piece of paper. By punching a hole into a piece of cardboard and holding it up to the sun, you can project the crescent sun’s outline onto another piece of paper.

And if you are able to travel to the path of totality, the nearest states to view the total eclipse are Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The moon’s shadow will cast about a 70-mile-wide path that will take less than 20 minutes to pass through these states. Depending on your location within the path, totality will last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes.

But if you are unable to get outside that Monday afternoon, the next solar eclipse will occur in the United States on Monday April 8, 2024, and the path of its totality will stretch from Maine to Texas.

Solar eclipses are not rare, they happen all over the globe, more often than not in the unpopulated areas of Earth. The last time the moon cast a shadow coast to coast across the United States was in 1918.

As Topasna explained, “since the moon’s orbit is tilted by about 5.15 degrees, we don’t see a solar or lunar eclipse every month. Instead a solar eclipse can occur when the Earth passes through the moon’s shadow and a lunar eclipse can occur when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow. This happens approximately every 6 months.”

The Great American Eclipse will be many Americans’ only chance to witness one of these spectacular celestial events and stand in the shadow of the moon.

-Kelly Nye


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