MSU, Starkville gear up for historic eclipse

Participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a "diamond ring" shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. For the 2017 eclipse over the United States, the National Science Foundation-funded movie project nicknamed Citizen CATE will have more than 200 volunteers trained and given special small telescopes and tripods to observe the sun at 68 locations in the exact same way. (R. Baer, S. Kovac/Citizen CATE Experiment via AP)
Staff Writer

On Aug. 21, the United States will see its first national solar eclipse in almost a century.

As the moon passes directly in front of the sun, the sky will darken until 89 percent of the sun’s light is blocked out. The partial eclipse will begin at 11:56 a.m. and reach maximum at 1:27 p.m. The partial eclipse will end at 2:54 p.m. The nearest major city to receive a total eclipse will be Nashville.

“They’re rare in any one spot,” said Mississippi State University Assistant Professor of Astrophysics Angelle Tanner. “The last time we had one like this in the contiguous 48 states was about 99 years ago.”

The eclipse will travel in a diagonal line across the country, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. The path of totality will be about 70 miles wide. Tanner said in Starkville, the eclipse would darken the skies to about the light level of dusk, leaving a thin crescent of sunlight. The air temperature may cool, and some animals may exhibit evening behaviors.

“You’ll definitely notice it, even if it’s cloudy,” Tanner said. “You’ll notice the sky get darker for a few minutes.”

Tanner also spoke to the scientific opportunities the eclipse will present, including study of the solar corona and chromosphere, which both surround the sun. She said study of the corona and chromosphere were important because ejections from the solar corona are capable of damaging satellites and other electronics.

“Scientifically, it’s a unique opportunity to study the properties of the sun,” Tanner said.

However, Tanner will not be doing any research herself this time.

She and associate professor of astrophysics Donna Pierce will host a viewing on the Drill Field from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. This viewing will be open to the public, and several safe methods of viewing the eclipse will be available, including eclipse glasses, solar telescopes and pinhole viewers. Tanner also said shade 14 welding glasses would be suitable for safe eclipse viewing.

“Even with 89 percent coverage, it’s the remaining 11 percent of light that we have to take precautions with in protecting our eyes because we won’t have the full, bright sun that usually makes us look away,” Pierce said.

In the event of inclement weather, the viewing will take place in room 1030 of the Old Main Academic Center, using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s broadcast of the eclipse.

Those interested in attending the viewing are encouraged to ride the SMART bus line into campus and bring chairs and blankets. Free one-day parking passes will also be available through the MSU Parking Services website.

At 4 p.m. Aug. 20, Pierce will give a public presentation on the eclipse titled “Chasing Shadows: Understanding the Great American Eclipse” in the Rogers Auditorium of McCool Hall