Solar Eclipse Die-Hards Use This Clever Trick To See Totality Longer Than Anyone Else

An airplane flies in front of the crescent of a solar eclipse. Shutterstock

For the first time in nearly 100 years, the shadow of a total solar eclipse is going to sweep across the United States.

The umbra — the darkest shadow cast by the moon blocking the sun — will appear in the Pacific Ocean and slice through 14 US states on Monday, August 21.

Starting around 10 a.m. PDT, parts of western Oregon will go dark in a condition called totality as the umbra travels east. The elliptical shadow will make its way to Idaho Falls by 11:33 MDT, hit Kansas City at 1 p.m. CDT, and begin to pass over Charleston, South Carolina, by about 2:45 p.m. EDT.

Although some eclipse fans spend years preparing for the event, totality lasts less than three minutes — so all it takes is one stray cloud to obscure the magic moment.

That's why some people pay thousands of dollars to fly in chartered jets and pursue the moon's shadow. In addition to beating the odds of bad weather, such hardcore "eclipse chasers" can extend their length of time in the umbra, sometimes by several minutes.

I was lucky enough to ride an eclipse-chasing flight on August 1, 2008. Here's what the experience was like.

Total solar eclipses aren't rare — they happen about once every 18 months — but most locations on Earth fall in one's path roughly once every 375 years.

Total solar eclipses aren't rare — they happen about once every 18 months — but most locations on Earth fall in one's path roughly once every 375 years.
An illustration of a total solar eclipse.NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Source: Amber Porter/Clemson University

That's because the umbra averages less than 100 miles wide near the equator — a fraction of a percent of Earth's dayside surface area.

That's because the umbra averages less than 100 miles wide near the equator — a fraction of a percent of Earth's day-side surface area.
A US map of the total solar eclipse's shadow on August 21, 2017. The umbral shadow will be about 60-70 miles wide, depending on the time and location. NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio Source: TimeAndDate.com
 

However, some hardcore eclipse chasers spend thousands of dollars to chase the moon's shadow from the skies.

However, some hardcore eclipse chasers spend thousands of dollars to chase the moon's shadow from the skies.
An airplane flies in front of the crescent of a solar eclipse.Shutterstock
 
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