FAQ about the Great America Solar Eclipse of 2017
Exactly what is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse is when the moon’s shadow falls directly on the Earth. As seen from the surface of the Earth, the moon passes directly between the sun and the Earth, resulting in part or all of the sun being hidden from view.
Is this related to the phases of the moon?
Not exactly. When there is a full moon, the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, so that we can see the light from the sun reflecting off the surface of the moon and coming backwards to the Earth. When there is a new moon, the sun and moon are the same side of the Earth, so no light is reflected to Earth. If this happens during the day, you can sometimes see the ghostly outline of the moon in the day sky.
Then why isn’t there a solar eclipse every new moon?
If the Earth were not tilted on its axis and the moon revolved perfectly around the equator, then every new moon would have a solar eclipse. As it is, there are two to five times per year when the moon is in the right position, relative to the sun and the Earth for its shadow to hit part of the Earth, resulting in a solar eclipse.
How are we able to predict this in advance?
For millennia, people all over the world have watched carefully when and where the sun and moon rise every day. From Nabta in southern Egypt to Stonehenge in England to Chichen Itza in Mexico, and others too numerous to mention, ancient people constructed stone structures to mark the progression of the sun, moon, and stars. Over many years, careful observation would reveal that the moon rises about an hour later every day, and appears to rise north and south of due east, similar to the sun. Calculating and forecasting where the sun and moon would be in the future became a very important job for the priest/astronomer and gave that person a great deal of power. With the invention of the telescope, these observations became even more precise.
What does a solar eclipse mean?
Throughout history, solar eclipses (like comets) have been invested with meanings they do not deserve. There is no meaning in an eclipse. It is just an astronomical event as ordinary, though a bit more dramatic, as sunrise or sunset. However, because even partial eclipses dim the light of the sun, these can be frightening to those who don’t understand the cause. Solar eclipses have occasionally been associated with bad luck for the ruler, so we will have to see if that is the case with the US this year.
Can I look at the sun during an eclipse?
NO! You should never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses. The intense visible and ultraviolet light from the sun can permanently damage the retinas of your eyes and result in blindness! There are special glasses that can be used that filter out the UV and almost all of the visible light, so that the sun is visible. Alternatively, you can view the sun indirectly by using a card with a small hole in it and a piece of paper. Standing with your back to the sun, the light will go through the hole and the image of the sun will show up on the paper. The round shape will change as the moon crosses the face of the sun.
Will it get totally dark in Miami?
No. The region of totality (where the moon totally covers the sun) will travel along an arc from Oregon to South Carolina, but will not include Florida. We will see about 70% of the sun’s surface covered by the moon. The next total solar eclipse that will include Florida will be on August 12, 2045.
Where’s the best place to observe the eclipse?
There will be a viewing on Monday in the Music Meadow between the FIU building and the Fine Arts Building from 1:30 to 4:30, with the best viewing around 3:00. Safe glasses and other devices will be provided. Alternatively, and in case it is cloudy, you can watch it live online at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream, where you can also find a great deal of other information.