This article, which first appeared in print and online July 22, has been updated to include new information about counterfeit eclipse glasses and new guidelines for buying legitimate ones. The information is at the end of the article under the subhead "Safety."
Let’s talk about totality.
“Just remember: It’s all about totality,” says Jackie Beucher. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Specifically, she means a total eclipse of the sun. She’s seen 11. There’s just no comparison between partial and full eclipses, said Beucher, vice president of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.
Even so, she struggled for a minute to find the right words to describe what’s coming Aug. 21.
“It’s not that it just gets dark,” she said.
Try this, she said. It’s the difference between hearing about the Grand Canyon and then actually seeing it.
“Multiply that times five,” she said. “That’s what it feels like to see a total eclipse.”
Interesting things will happen. The stars and planets will come out.
“It’s sunset all around you, 360 degrees,” she said.
And the sun?
“It looks like a black hole in the sky.”
Much of Eastern Jackson County is well positioned to see the full eclipse early in the afternoon of Aug. 21, though those who want to experience it longer might want to head a little north, a little east, or both.
Beucher walked through what’s coming during a presentation this week at the Blue Springs North branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library. (Her presentation is repeated at 2 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Blue Springs South branch and at 3 p.m. that day at North Independence.)
Her suggestions could be broken down to four main ideas: location, duration, preparation -- and safety.
Know the map
The moon will slide between the sun and Earth and will cast a shadow with a diameter of roughly 70 miles. It comes ashore in Oregon and goes back out to sea in South Carolina.
“It takes 93, 94 minutes for that shadow of the moon to move across the country,” Beucher said. It’s the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years.
Basically all of North America, and parts of South America, will have a partial eclipse that day, but Missouri is among 12 states that get that 70-mile-across direct shadow. The middle of that zone – a line through St. Joseph, Lathrop, Marshall, Columbia and St. Genevieve – gets the longest full eclipse, just under 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
“And that is why you want to be as close to the center line as possible,” Beucher said.
The southern edge of that full-eclipse zone passes right through Eastern Jackson County. Grain Valley, Buckner, Sugar Creek – yes, full eclipse. Also, virtually all of Independence and all but the southern edge of Blue Springs. But Raytown, Lee’s Summit and Lake Lotawana? No.
But even within that zone, a little distance matters. Consider three landmarks – three high schools – more or less on an east-west line on U.S. 24. At about 1:09 p.m., Van Horn will have one minute and two seconds of totality. To the east, William Chrisman will have 1 minute, 17 seconds. Then farther east, and a bit north – closer to the center line – Fort Osage gets 1 minute, 48 seconds.
That’s from a Google map devised by Xavier Jubier. Google “Xavier 2017 eclipse,” and up pops a map that lets you see exactly when the eclipse begins and ends – and the length of total eclipse – at the spot of your choice.
An example: If you want two minutes of totality, consider Sibley. The partial eclipse begins 1.1 seconds after 11:42 a.m. It steadily grows darker for an hour and a half. The total eclipse starts at 1:08 p.m. plus 33.2 seconds and runs 2 minutes and 7.2 seconds. Then the skies slowly brighten, and the partial eclipse ends at 2:36 plus 35.4 seconds. (It’s an anticlimactic ending, Beucher said).
Here’s the thing, Beucher said. That 70-mile wide “path of totality” across the country is home to just 12.2 million Americans. So lots of folks will be on the move. People in the East are probably headed to South Carolina. Casper, Wyoming, will be popular. But this part of the country, she said, can expect visitors from Chicago to Dallas. (She’ll be hosting an event in St. Joseph, close to the center line and considered among the best viewing places.)
So hotels are filling up. Officials are worried that the roads will, too.
“I believe, really, that I-29 is going to shut down,” she said.
‘Just think ahead’
The state of Missouri recommends booking a spot and traveling early. The State Emergency Management Agency stresses that it’s not a good idea to just pull to the side of the road and look up.
Beucher has a whole list of ideas. It’ll be a day outside and, for many, a day in a remote area. So take chairs and water, sunscreen and bug spray. Wear a hat.
With that many people clustered, she suggests cell phones might not work. Carry a portable radio, and cash.
One more thing to carry: toilet paper. A huge crowd could overload the facilities at a park. And even though the excitement builds as the partial eclipse deepens, hit the bathroom 30 to 45 minutes before the full eclipse. You don’t want to miss it. She’s seen it happen.
“Just think ahead,” she said.
SEMA adds: Get off the road to a safe place. Don’t shoot pictures while driving. Don’t wear eclipse glasses while driving. Be ready for congestion. Watch out for other people.
“It’s never OK to look at the sun,” Beucher said.
Wear your eclipse glasses even during the partial eclipse. You can take them off only during totality, she said.
Photography will be tricky unless you’re experienced and have the right filters.
Eclipse glasses are not sunglasses. They’re specially designed, though available inexpensively.
Now counterfeit glasses have been showing up in places such as Amazon.com, so the American Astronomical Society has updated its guidelines.
It had urged people to buy glasses stamped with an ISO code – 12312-2 – meaning those glasses meet international standards. But now the AAS says unscrupulous manufacturers have been stamping that number on their products too. It cites “the many reports we’re getting about unsafe eclipse glasses flooding the marketplace.”
So the AAS’s new guidance is to use vendors it considers reputable. Those are:
• American Paper Optics.
• APM Telescopes.
• Baeder Planetarium.
• Explore Scientific.
• Lunt Solar Systems.
• Meade Instruments.
• Rainbow Symphony.
• Thousand Oaks Optical.
• TSE 17.