As U.S. 1’s cover story on page 18 of this issue makes clear, a rare solar eclipse can be both an artistic and emotional experience, as well as a scientifically defined event. The art is addressed in the new exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum. The science is addressed by — among others — Carlton “Tad” Pryor, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
According to Pryor, the total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, will cover an approximately 70-mile-wide zone across the United States, from the Northwest to the Southeast. In New Jersey, however, a partial eclipse, in which the moon will block about 70 to 80 percent of the sun, will begin at about 1:20 p.m., peak at about 2:45 p.m. and end shortly before 4 p.m.
“A total solar eclipse is always very dramatic,” Pryor says in Rutgers press release. “The sky gets dark, animals and birds go quiet as if it’s nighttime and it’s a little bit cooler outside. The partial solar eclipse that will be visible in New Jersey is much more subtle, but will be noticeable if you know what to look for.”
“An eclipse is a remarkable phenomenon,” Pryor said. “It was always regarded as signifying something important. Some people thought something was eating the sun and tried to make noise to scare it away. But the ancient Greeks understood what was happening and could start to predict some of these phenomena.”
Because it is unsafe to look directly at the sun, Pryor says anyone wishing to see the phenomenon must protect their eyes with specially made and certified filters, or by observing the eclipse indirectly. Direct viewing can be done safely with No. 14 arc welder glass or with eclipse viewing glasses that meet the following criteria outlined by NASA.
According to the Rutgers press release, homemade filters or sunglasses — even very dark ones — are never safe for looking directly at the sun. There are reports of potentially unsafe eclipse glasses appearing for sale, so be sure to buy eclipse viewers from reputable vendors.
Pryor offers suggestions for safe, indirect viewing. If the sky is clear at around 2:45 p.m. on the day of the eclipse, stand in a leafy tree’s shadow and look at the ground. The smallest spots of sunlight will make little crescent shapes, showing the sun’s apparent shape as the moon crosses in front.
Another method is to make a small hole in a piece of cardboard with the tip of a pencil or pen and project the light onto a white piece of paper, he said. For a better view, put the hole over a mirror and reflect the light onto a more distant white piece of paper or white surface.
The last total eclipse in the continental U.S. occurred in 1979. Hawaii experienced one in 1991, and New Jersey will have to wait until May 1, 2079, to get one. But you will have to be an early bird: The total eclipse will be visible only in the northern two-thirds of the state and will occur only a few minutes after sunrise.