Some head elsewhere for eclipse

Published 11:41 am Monday, August 14, 2017

Most live within a day’s drive of the path of totality

COLUMBUS (AP) — Tom Burns last saw a total eclipse of the sun 26 years ago on a cruise ship off Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

Once the moon swallowed the sun, night fell prematurely, temperatures dipped, stars appeared, and the sun’s gaseous outer atmosphere revealed itself as a silvery, wispy halo around a hole in the sky where the sun had been.

The other astrophysicists and astronomers on deck with Burns stopped fiddling with expensive devices brought onboard to capture the rare celestial event.

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“There they were, ignoring their equipment, staring up at the sky with tears running down their cheeks,” said Burns, director of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Perkins Observatory. “If you can get that reaction out of research professionals, then you know you’ve got something good. It is beautiful beyond measure.”

On Aug. 21, millions will get the chance to witness another solar eclipse; this one will slide coast to coast across the United States for the first time in 99 years.

With a limited amount of time before the so-called Great American Eclipse, some central Ohioans are scrambling to firm up travel plans to the eclipse’s path of totality, a 70-mile-wide streak from Oregon in the northwest to South Carolina in the southeast. In the path, darkness will fall in the afternoon for as long as 2 minutes, 40 seconds.

Anyone who can’t make the trip shouldn’t pout: Everyone in every state will be able to observe a partial eclipse.

In Columbus, the partial eclipse will peak about 2:30 p.m., when the moon covers 86.3 percent of the sun. It will be safely visible only with special eye protection.

“You’re going to see an odd-looking sun with a chunk missing from it,” said Mike Fisher, an astronomer and Columbus State Community College professor.

About 500 million people across the U.S., Canada and Mexico can watch the eclipse for the two to three hours it lasts.

Most Americans live within a day’s drive of the path of totality, so scientists and citizens alike are expected to clog routes across the country leading to the eclipse’s bull’s-eye path.

And for good reason.

It’s an eerie phenomenon, said Paul Sutter, an Ohio State University astrophysicist and COSI’s chief scientist. During a total eclipse, it will be so convincingly dark that street lights triggered by electric eyes will turn on and birds will begin chirping nighttime songs.

“It is an otherworldly experience,” he said.

The event is so rare that many local astronomers will be catching a total eclipse for the first time — despite entire careers spent looking up at the sky.