The Great American Eclipse – the first total solar eclipse in the United States since 1979 – is only two weeks away. Sacramento isn’t in the path of the full eclipse, so stars and the sun’s corona won’t be visible here, but the moon will cover an impressive portion of the sun. Here are six things that will help you experience the event on Aug. 21:
1. Know what you are looking at: A solar eclipse happens when the moon’s orbit passes in front of the sun and the moon blocks some of the sun from view. In a total solar eclipse, the moon fully blocks the sun. This year, the eclipse will fully block the sun in a 70-mile-wide band along a path across the country that starts in Oregon. The rest of the country will be in the partial shadow provided by the penumbra, experiencing a partial eclipse.
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2. If you don’t already have plans, you should probably stay here: For many people, a full eclipse is worth making travel plans. But if you haven’t, it’s probably too late. Eclipse seekers started making reservations up to a year ago, and Oregon officials expect gridlock as more than a million visitors try to see the event.
Driving partway won’t make much of a difference. For each 100 miles you drive toward the California-Oregon border from Sacramento, you gain about 8 percent coverage of the sun. That’s not going to dramatically improve your experience.
In Northern California, make sure you have a clear view looking east. Stay away from areas that have a high likelihood of clouds or fog, such as San Francisco.
3. Plan your day: The eclipse starts in Sacramento at 9:02 a.m., but the effect will be subtle at that point. Make sure you are outside at the peak: 10:17 a.m., when the sun is 79 percent obscured. And turn down the air conditioning, because the eclipse could strain the state’s energy supply by blocking solar energy generation. If you are looking to observe the event with experts, the Powerhouse Science Center and the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society are hosting an eclipse observation at the science center at 9 a.m.
4. Get some glasses: It’s dangerous to look at the sun with unprotected eyes. The intense radiation from the sun can damage your retinas. To watch the eclipse, get a pair of eclipse glasses. They can be purchased online (order soon!) or for $2 at the Powerhouse Science Center’s gift shop in Sacramento. Reports indicate fake glasses are also being sold, so make sure your glasses are up to the right standard – they should be marked ISO 12312-2.
5. Remember to look down: Look for weird shadows on the ground by trees. The spaces between the leaves act as “pinhole cameras” that project the image of the eclipsed sun on the ground. You can also see these projections by making a pinhole viewer or looking at the ground at light passing through the holes of a colander, cheese grater or even your crisscrossed fingers.
6. Photo tips: Don’t look at the sun through binoculars, telescopes or your camera’s viewfinder with your eclipse glasses. If you want to take a picture of the sun, put a solar filter manufactured for that purpose on the front of your lens. Other ideas: Photograph your friends in their funny glasses, or the shadows cast by the partially obscured sun.
7. If you miss it: The next partial solar eclipse visible from Sacramento will be in 2023. The moon will obscure 80 percent of the sun.
The next total eclipse in North America will be in 2024, but the closest it gets to Sacramento is Mexico and Texas. In 2045, a total eclipse will cross Northern California with a massive 140-mile-wide band of totality and an impressive 4.5-minute duration. But it’s a bit early for reservations.