“The best 2 ½ minutes of your life” — that’s a stellar prediction of things to come, and precisely what Dr. Angela Speck said is in store for us on Aug. 21 with the total solar eclipse.
Dr. Speck, Ph.D, professor and director of astronomy at the University of Missouri, held an audience of approximately 100 enraptured when she spoke about the eclipse on May 8 at the C.J. Burger Fine Arts Center at Washington High School. Earlier in the day she addressed area students.
Her enthusiasm was contagious — clad in a star-skirt, lit with a battery pack, her midnight blue garment sparkled like the night sky. Clearly, Dr. Speck is impassioned about her subject area, but clearly this British-born eclipse expert doesn’t take herself too seriously.
After hearing her speak, I’d like to tell you that I totally get what happens with a total solar eclipse. But I don’t, and it wasn’t for lack of trying to dissect Dr. Speck’s Power Point presentation that included diagrams of planets, orbits and abundant statistics on past eclipses and the like. Though I didn’t catch on to everything, I came away with a basic understanding.
On Aug. 21 grab your eclipse glasses and get to a place where you have a clear view of the sky. Bit by bit, you will see the moon pass in front of the sun until it reaches totality at around 1 p.m. locally, completely covering the sun for an awesome 2 1/2 minutes. During that time, you can take off your glasses because the sun will be blocked. After that you’ll have to put your glasses on again, until the eclipse is complete.
None of us will ever have seen anything like it, Dr. Speck said. Though many of us may recall eclipses in the past, they’ve only been partial, whereas this one is complete and will take approximately two hours and 54 minutes from start to finish, and in Washington include a midpoint where we will have complete darkness, appearing like a night sky lit by a full moon.
“It’s a really impressive 2 1/2 minutes,” Dr. Speck said, explaining some of the things that will happen. We will be able to see stars and planets in the daytime, constellations, she said. The temperature will drop by about 10 degrees and as it does the air currents will change. Animals will behave differently — Dr. Speck added, birds and insects will react to the change, and cattle will head toward the barn.
The reason this total solar eclipse is such a big deal is because “it’s so accessible and in a relatively safe area.” She illustrated her point by showing a world map of past total solar eclipses. One occurred in the North Pole in March, far from ideal conditions for viewing. Another was in Africa in an area that’s not particularly safe to outsiders and then there was the total solar eclipse in the Middle East. “This time the total solar eclipse is coming to us — we don’t have to go to it,” Dr. Speck said. “And it’s generating great excitement.”
It’s Dr. Speck’s job to educate us, and others across the United States, and to ready us for the huge influx of people who are expected to descend on areas of totality. Along the path of the total solar eclipse, people will flock to watch the miraculous sight, and some of the choice front row seats will be in this part of Missouri, where the total eclipse will be seconds more lengthy than in other places. Ourstate is likely to be inundated with domestic and foreign travelers because we have interstates to accommodate them, a nearby airport and restaurants and hotels, hopefully enough to handle the crowds.
Dr. Speck said they’ve gotten word of eclipse aficionados coming from China and Europe. In Wyoming, where the first glimpses of the eclipse will be visible in the United States, as it makes its cross-country swath, hotels have been booked for two years.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the last total solar eclipse viewed in Missouri was Aug. 7, 1869. Nearly half of our state parks are on the eclipse path this time, Dr. Speck said. What an opportunity she added, “We get to see the whole thing because we’re on the path of totality.
“And, oh, yeah, people are really going to travel to see the eclipse. You should expect to at least double your population and then some.”
For more information on the eclipse go to eclipse.aas.org or follow the Newspaper In Education feature in The Missourian. And mark your calendars for the viewing event at the Washington Fairgrounds on Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., sponsored by the Washington Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Parks Department.