At mid-day on Monday, Aug. 21, skies across the United States will get darker as a rare solar eclipse makes its way across the country.
Although most of the continental U.S. will experience at least a partial eclipse that day, only those within the relatively narrow band of totality will be able to see the moon fully cover up the sun. Even then, the total eclipse will only last a couple of minutes or so in just about every location along the path.
According to timeanddate.com and other astronomical tracking sites, Moab residents will see 87 percent of the sun covered by the moon at the maximum point of the eclipse at 11:38 a.m. Locally, the moon will begin covering the sun at 10:16 a.m., and the eclipse will end at 1:05 p.m.
“It seems very slow at first, but as it happens you’ll see the sky getting darker,” said Alex Ludwig of Moab’s Red Rock Astronomy.
“It really highlights the power of the sun in the cosmos,” Ludwig added, noting that the eclipse provides a rare opportunity to see the corona that surrounds the sun.
“You can actually see the flames coming off the sun like a campfire,” he said. “There are plasma loops so big you could fit five earths in them.”
The event will be the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental U.S. since 1979. The next one won’t occur until April of 2024.
Ludwig says he’s planning to stay in Moab during the eclipse and take a small group of up to 20 people out to a nearby viewpoint to watch the event through his solar telescope, which has special filters that allow safe viewing of the sun.
Eye safety is of paramount importance during a solar eclipse, looking at the sun with the naked eye or with inadequate protection, such as ordinary sunglasses, may cause permanent damage to one’s vision.
Experts strongly recommend using special sunglasses that are ISO-certified for direct solar viewing. Such glasses, usually made of cardboard, are widely available for purchase. Grand County Library, which held a special eclipse-themed event earlier this month, has already given away nearly 1,000 pairs, according to librarian Charlotte Hurley.
For those who don’t have access to such glasses, another safe way to view the eclipse is to make a simple pinhole lens using a piece of cardboard or construction paper, and project the image of the sun onto another surface. The projected image (not the sun itself) is completely safe to look at.
Teachers at local schools are planning to use the eclipse as a learning opportunity. Students at Grand County Middle School, for example, will be given solar viewing sunglasses and watch the eclipse at school during its maximum phase, from 11 a.m. until noon. Various teachers in multiple departments are planning to incorporate the event into their lessons and curriculum, according to school officials.
At Grand County Library’s recent four-hour event, local author Sand Sheff read aloud his newly published children’s book called “Eclipse Miracle: the Sun is the Same Size as the Moon in the Sky.” Hurley said patrons are able to check out copies of Sheff’s book, along with numerous books featuring the sun and the solar system, in addition to astronomical maps, charts, and other related materials.
Some Moabites can’t resist the urge to head northward and try to experience the eclipse in its full glory. The nearest areas within the path of totality are in southeast Idaho and central Wyoming, both of which are several hours away by car.
“I’ve seen partial eclipses before — once filtered through the leaves of a tree — but I’ve never seen a total eclipse in person. I’m excited about seeing the corona and the stars in the wild and not artificially created in a telescope,” said Moab resident Dick Toll, who plans to brave the expected crowds and drive northward on Interstate 15 in hopes of making it to Craters of the Moon National Monument or somewhere nearby in Idaho to watch the total eclipse.
About a dozen U.S. states, ranging from Oregon to South Carolina, lie along the path of totality, and many cities and towns along that path are bracing themselves for the expected onslaught of visitors.
“There is a lot of excitement and planning going into this event,” said Kemrey Taylor, who lives in Casper, Wyoming with her husband Zane and their two children. Both Kermey and Zane grew up in Moab and graduated from Grand County High School a little more than a decade ago.
Taylor said that most hotels in Casper have been sold out for about a year.
“Earlier this year, classes were held about readying your home to rent out for the event,” she said. “I recently saw someone trying to rent out their camp trailer for $1,000 a night.”
According to Taylor, the citizens of Casper have been advised to stock up on food and supplies during the entire week before the eclipse.
“They think Casper will at least double in size, which has raised questions, not just about the traffic, but even the sewer systems,” Taylor added. “There’s been concern about whether our sewer system can handle the sudden onslaught of people. I guess we will see. We are making sure we are stocked up on everything just in case. I can only imagine how busy it will be.”
Casper, along with many other areas across the country that lie along the path of totality, is hosting various festivals, concerts and parties the weekend before the eclipse.
But Taylor says her family plans to simply view the event from their own backyard.
“It’s definitely an exciting time, everyone is talking about it and gearing up, buying their eclipse glasses,” Taylor said. “Not knowing how many people will show up is absolutely crazy, but what an amazing once-in-a-lifetime event. We are very excited. I’m so grateful I get to experience it with my husband and kids, and that my kids will be old enough to remember it.”
No matter how many preparations are made, would-be eclipse viewers are still at the mercy of the weather, as cloudy skies will block a clear view of the sun. If the weather happens to be rainy or overcast during the eclipse, people will still see the sky get appreciably darker, even though the sun itself won’t be visible.
“You’ve just got to hope for the best, weather-wise,” Ludwig said.
For more information, including videos showing what the Aug. 21 eclipse will look like from Moab, visit https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/moab.