By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
By now you’ve probably heard the big news: on Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will occur, causing the day to temporarily turn into night. This rare event may happen only once in someone’s lifetime: the 2017 event is the first total solar eclipse going coast-to-coast across the continental United States in nearly 100 years. See below for more information and all the special events taking place locally before and on eclipse day!
What you’ll see
People all over the United States will get to see this phenomenon, but how “total” an eclipse you experience will depend on where you are. To experience the full effect, you need to be in the “path of totality,” a narrow band following the moon’s path as it crosses over. The DC area is well outside of that, so in reality this will be more of a partial eclipse for us, but still have a strong effect. Around 2:42 p.m. on August 21, about 81 percent of the sun will be covered from view in Fairfax County and DC areas.
If you want to figure out whether to view it from here or travel somewhere, you can take advantage of a new simulator tool that scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Google created. The simulator shows you what the sky will look like from any location. Just input your city or zip code, and the simulator will tell you how much of the sun will be blocked by the moon and how the sun will travel across the sky over a 3-hour period on eclipse day (use the slider at the bottom). Remember also that weather on that day could impact what you see.
Special eclipse events
As far as science events go, the eclipse is a big deal. A recent Washington Post article notes that even scientists have a hard time describing what experiencing a total solar eclipse is like — and that these are the kinds of things that in days of past “would make people think the world was ending.”
In modern times, we can not only enjoy the event but plan ahead for it. Locally, Fairfax County will host opportunities to learn about the eclipse at nature and recreation centers, historic sites, parks, libraries, and schools. Museums in Northern Virginia and DC also will have special programs. Events include day-long science festivals, special boat tours at Fairfax County parks on eclipse day, and an information session on the myths and superstitions related to eclipses. Some events are free; others have a small fee, require registration, and are filling up fast. We have researched multiple sources to create a list of local events celebrating the eclipse. The list includes events before and on eclipse day.
Doctors and NASA emphasize that severe eye damage can result from looking directly at the sun at any time, even during an eclipse. To view the eclipse without the risk of hurting your eyes, you should wear special glasses that have solar filters designed exclusively for looking directly at the sun. Some local organizations will distribute such glasses at their events. If you can’t get the glasses, you can make a special viewing projector with materials you probably have at home. NASA also has a page dedicated to eclipse viewing activities.
Do you plan to view the eclipse? This is an exciting moment! The only downside is that upon hearing the words “total eclipse” often, you may end up with “that” song stuck in your head. You know the one… (“Turn around…”)