Solar eclipse locally will be 90% total on April 8

Mar. 29—Alicia Carpenter plans to see her third solar eclipse on April 8, and she can't wait.

In the Decatur area, for about 2 1/2 hours beginning at 12:43 p.m. that day, a partial eclipse will be visible. A few hours driving time to the north or west, and a total eclipse can be seen.

Carpenter, 53, of Danville, said she has always been fascinated with the planets, space and everything about astronomy.

"In college you have to take two sciences when you're a liberal arts major, and so I took astronomy and geology," Carpenter said. "Astronomy might have been one of my favorite classes in college. We met at night and went to the big telescope at school, and we looked at Saturn and, well, some people just have a fascination with space. I'm one of those.

"The fact that we get to experience actual things going on in space, I want to be a part of it."

At its maximal phase, the eclipse as viewed from the Decatur area will be about 90% total. The last eclipse visible in the contiguous United States was in August 2017, and the next one will not be until Aug. 23, 2044.

Carpenter said she will be watching the eclipse with her "eclipse group," in Moulton again, as she did during the 2017 eclipse.

"I'm superstitious and I want to be with them during the next eclipse," she said.

Carpenter was born in 1970 and said she can remember her first eclipse experience during her childhood.

"I can remember us making the eclipse boxes out of milk cartons or something in grade school and us looking at the eclipse," she said. "That's the only other one I remember besides that last one in 2017."

John Golben, Calhoun Community College astronomy, physical science and physics instructor, said solar eclipses happen when the moon crosses the ecliptic plane between the Earth and the sun. In the path of totality, the moon will line up perfectly between the Earth and the sun, blotting out the sunlight. It will slice a diagonal line from the southwest to the northeast across North America, briefly plunging communities along the track into darkness.

Locally on April 8, the moon will block 90% of the sun.

"If someone has eclipse glasses, then they should see significant coverage of the sun. However, 10% of the sun's light is still very bright and very dangerous," Golben said. "We will experience a dimming of light during the eclipse, but it will not get dark."

Golben said there will be a minor change in temperature.

"At maximum eclipse, there will be less direct energy from the sun," he said. "But the atmosphere will retain residual heat. So, while the sun dims, there will be a slight chill."

The entire eclipse will take about 2 1/2 hours, Golben said.

"Locally, the eclipse will begin at 12:43 p.m. on April 8," he said. "It will reach maximum coverage at 2:02 p.m. The eclipse will finally end at 3:19 p.m."

The total solar eclipse will cross 15 states, from Texas to Maine.

Dr. Chris Teichmiller, an optometrist at MyEyeDr., said you should never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses on, but especially not during the eclipse. He said special glasses are made for viewing the solar eclipse, but even with those you should only stare directly at the eclipse for short intervals.

NASA recommends that an eclipse only be viewed with glasses that meet ISO 12312-2 standards, which it says are "thousands of times darker" than conventional sunglasses.

"If you're outside the range of totality, which we are going to be, well, just like when you try to look up at the sun and it's very uncomfortable, looking at it for more than a few seconds can actually cause some permanent damage to our central vision," Teichmiller said.

Staring at the sun during the eclipse, Teichmiller said, can cause solar retinopathy, also known as eclipse retinopathy.

"Basically, it causes a burn to the center part of our vision," he said. "It can result in permanent vision loss and loss of central vision. In lower doses or in milder cases it may be reversible, but it may take up to 12 months to do so."

Teichmiller said another way to look at the eclipse is through a pinhole effect.

"You can punch tiny holes through a piece of paper," he said. "You hold it up and you look at the shadows it creates on the ground. You can adjust it and see the effects of the eclipse that way."

Golben said from Texas all the way to Niagara Falls, New York, will have a total eclipse.

"Probably the closest destination for someone from north Alabama will be Paducah, Kentucky," he said. "That is about a 4 1/2 hour drive, assuming good traffic conditions."

Among the cities from which a total solar eclipse will be visible are Dallas, Little Rock, Arkansas, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Buffalo, New York.

Golben said solar eclipses typically happen somewhere on the Earth's surface every few years.

"It has to do with how the sun's position, the moon's position at new phase, and the Earth's position line up," he said.

Solar eclipses do not occur at regular intervals, Golben said.

"It varies on the probability of the moon crossing the plane at just the right time," he said. "Of course we had a total solar eclipse just seven years ago. However, the next one after this will not occur for another 20 years."

The National Solar Observatory recommends following these safety procedures when viewing the eclipse:

—Always inspect eclipse glasses before use; if scratched or damaged, discard them. Always supervise children using eclipse filters.

—Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses before looking up at the sun. After glancing at the sun, turn away before removing your glasses — do not remove them while looking at the sun.

—Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device. Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury.

—If you are within the path of totality, remove your eclipse glasses only when the moon completely covers the sun's bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. As soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your eclipse glasses to glance at the remaining partial phases.

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