Vail Curious Nature column: Experience the (near) totality of solar eclipse
August 18, 2017
On Monday, a total solar eclipse will travel across the contiguous United States, from coast to coast, for the first time since 1918 (we've witnessed other eclipses, but none with such great coverage). Pundits are already calling for it to be "the most tweeted event ever" or the "most photographed natural event ever," and here in Avon we are heavily underway with our preparations for our Solar Eclipse Watch Party hosted by our friends at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa.
So what is an eclipse, why do they happen and how can we safely view them? First and foremost, there are a few different types of eclipses that we should explain. On Monday, we will witness a solar eclipse, or an eclipse during the day where the moon's orbit takes it directly in between the sun and the Earth, effectively blocking out the sun for a short period of time.
A lunar eclipse, on the other hand, occurs when the Earth, on its orbit around the sun, comes between the sun and the moon, causing the Earth's shadow to be seen on the moon. We can only see lunar eclipses during a full moon.
Lunar eclipses usually last a few hours, and we have the opportunity to see at least two partial lunar eclipses every year. Solar eclipses, on the other hand, are much more rare, last for a much shorter amount of time and are visible in different forms at different locations across the globe. Partial solar eclipses take place every 18 months but only last a few minutes. The Great American Eclipse taking place on Monday will be a total solar eclipse for a narrow band across the country, dubbed "the path of totality."
“On Monday, a total solar eclipse will travel across the contiguous United States, from coast to coast, for the first time since 1918 (we’ve witnessed other eclipses, but none with such great coverage). Pundits are already calling for it to be ‘the most tweeted event ever’ or the ‘most photographed natural event ever.’”
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Short viewing Window
Even in the path of totality, the moon will only block the sun for a couple of minutes in each location. The millions of folks who live outside of this narrow band will experience various stages of a partial solar eclipse, meaning the moon will only block out a portion of the sun.
Here in central Colorado, we are just outside the path of totality, meaning the sun won't be fully covered by the moon. The closest locations to get into the path of totality are north of Colorado, into Wyoming or west into Idaho, and there are predictions for extreme traffic if you are headed in that direction, as folks flock into the path. In Avon, we will experience 85 percent to 90 percent coverage of the sun, with the maximum coverage coming around 11:45 a.m.
This has a few implications. First and foremost, we will get a great view of the eclipse without having any of the complications that come with complete darkness during the early afternoon. However, because it is a partial eclipse, to view it you will effectively need to look at the sun, something that is not recommended without specially designed safety glasses. In fact, you could go blind if you look at the eclipse without special glasses.
Walking Mountains and the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa have partnered for this once-in-a-lifetime (literally) experience. Join Walking Mountains from 10 a.m. to noon at the Westin in Avon for solar-themed activities and crafts and a safe and special viewing experience. Glasses are included.
Peter Suneson is the community outreach coordinator and still remembers viewing a partial solar eclipse as an elementary school student in 1991 in Norman, Oklahoma.