Solar Eclipse

North Carolina will have a front row seat to the first solar eclipse that has been visible in the U.S. since 1991.

Everyone in North Carolina will see some of this year's solar eclipse, the first visible in the U.S. since 1991. UNC-TV's Frank Graff and NASA Ambassador Tony Rice talk about the science behind a solar eclipse, and how to prepare for this rare sighting.

The solar eclipse happens August 21, 2017. Read the interview below.

Frank Graff: So this is a total solar eclipse, correct?

Tony Rice: Correct. It’s a pretty rare thing. We don’t see these things too often across the globe. We definitely don’t see them in North America very often and we definitely don’t see them span the entire continent of North America. 

Graff: So when you hear people say this will be “the most studied, most observed eclipse,” it’s because it’s right there across the country.

Rice: Absolutely. It’s going to start right around Portland, OR and make a nice wide swath across the mountains, plains and prairies and then exit around Charleston, South Carolina.

Graff: And the great thing for North Carolina is at least part of the state will see totality and all of the state will be able to see part of it.

Rice: That’s true. Manteo to Murphy. Murphy’s maybe a little better place to see it this time because they will actually see totality. But throughout the state of North Carolina we’ll be able to see something. And near totality through most of the state.

Graff: Okay and when you say totality, right behind us—the picture, that’s what you mean by totality.

Rice: That’s totality. That’s the diamond ring phase, that’s the phase we really look forward to, where that last little glimmer of the sun comes through there.

And what we’re actually seeing is the sun showing through a lunar crater. We often think of the moon as this perfect sphere but it’s really not. It’s got all these pockets and craters. So it really brings right to home some of these things.

But yes, totality is when the moon is immediately in front of the sun and covers it completely.

Graff: And I guess we should go back to the basics here. So a solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the earth and the sun. Correct?

Rice: Correct. 

Graff: So if this is totality here, this picture is what the Earth is going to be seeing. This is the shadow of the moon across the Earth, correct?

Rice: Correct. And this is physically what’s happening. So when we talk about parts of North Carolina are going to see totality—100 percent of the sun covered up—this is why. It’s actually a shadow being cast on westernmost North Carolina. That being said, the rest of the state is still going to get a show. We’re going to see the lower 90 percent of the sun being covered.

Graff: I’ve heard stories that if you’re in that shadow it’s night time. The animals start acting like its night time. It’s dark.

Rice: It is dark. The animals start reacting to this, they think night is coming on. But we will actually feel the temperature coming down a little bit because of the sun being covered up for a period of time.

Graff: Now why is this such a big deal other than it’s beautiful and really cool? It gives us a chance to study the sun, correct?

Rice: It’s a rare thing, so there’s always that, but scientifically it’s a rare opportunity to study the outer atmosphere of the sun that we can’t see because of the glare. We’ve got spacecraft up there that study these sorts of things, but down here on Earth this is the only time we can see that outer atmosphere. We can study it with telescopes but we can also do some other things like validate Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Graff: So let’s talk about looking at and observing this. You don’t want to look directly at the sun, you always hear that. But even in that shadow, that path of totality, you still don’t want to look at the sun, it’s still bright.

Rice: Yeah, you want to be very careful. If you’re in that path of totality you can remove your glasses for those couple of minutes where the sun’s completely covered but most of North Carolina, we’re still going to be seeing some of the sun. You need to be very careful, you can’t stare at that just like you can’t stare at the sun normally. And a regular pair of sunglasses is not enough.

Graff: Not enough, okay

Rice: Yeah, you need special solar eclipse glasses.

Graff: And can you make those or buy those?

Rice: Best not to make them, these are things that need to be made with precision and care by reputable sources. You can purchase those. 

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