BRISTOL - Eclipses are a rare phenomenon because everything has to line up just right for the moon to pass directly in front of the sun and cast a shadow on the earth.
“The shadow of the moon is very small, so if you are not in the right place at the right time, you ain’t seeing nothing,” said Kristine Larsen, astronomy professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. “That’s the thing about the total solar eclipse, you have to go to where the shadow of the moon is.”
Larsen gave a talk recently at the Bristol Public Library on today’s event, which is being called “The Great American Eclipse.”
On average there is about one solar eclipse a year somewhere in the world, but the chances of it being seen in your neighborhood are pretty small, she said.
Larsen said this will be her fifth time seeing a total solar eclipse.
“A total solar eclipse is one of the most amazing natural phenomena,” she said. “When adults are in the shadow of the moon some will cry, some will laugh, some will dance around, some will blurt out things that can’t be repeated in polite public. It is a breathtaking, absolutely amazing thing to view.”
If you wait for a total solar eclipse to come to you, you will probably have to wait a long time, she said, noting that the last one visible in Connecticut was on Jan. 24, 1925.
“I did not see that one,” she joked. However, in 1970 when she was a 7-year-old living in Hamden she did see a solar eclipse that was about 90 percent of totality.
“I remember my mother poking a little hole in the window shade and using the pinhole projection to show us that partial eclipse,” she recalled.
As an adult she has been able to travel to where total solar eclipses were happening around the world.
In the past few years she has seen them in Egypt, China, Australia, and the Faeroe Islands in the North Atlantic. She and her colleagues booked way in advance to see a 2010 solar eclipse on Easter Island, but when the hotel owner there realized the tourism potential he jacked the price up 400 percent so her group decided to skip that one.
Always with her on these trips was a stuffed bunny mascot named “BB,” she said. “BB doubles as a pillow on international flights. He’s very squishy and goes into my backpack, and he’s brought me very good luck.”
Day turns to twilight
Luck is necessary with an eclipse because cloudy skies always have the potential to spoil the view.
If you are lucky enough to see a total solar eclipse, as totality approaches day turns to twilight, Larsen said. “Animals think it’s time to go to bed, and then a few minutes later it’s not and they’re like ‘Whaaat just happened?’ The weather changes, the wind changes, the temperature changes, it’s a really eerie sort of thing.”
“Right before totality, the last beam of sunlight goes through a crater on the side of the moon and you get this beautiful thing called the diamond ring. It’s not safe to look at until after the diamond ring. Then the entire face of the sun is covered by the moon and the only thing you see is the ghostly outer atmosphere of the sun called the corona, and that is perfectly safe to look at with your unaided eyes,” she said.
“Then there’s another diamond ring on the other side, and it’s glasses on,” she said. “It’s not safe to look at anymore. But that’s why people travel to see them.”
And that’s why Larsen is flying to Columbia, Missouri, to be in the path of totality today. But what will the eclipse be like in Connecticut?
Around here, the eclipse will reach about 70 percent of totality. It will start about 1:30 p.m., reach its maximum about 2:45, and end at about 4. At its maximum the sun will look like a crescent moon with the tips curving down, “like a frowny face,” she said.
“It’s worth trying to look at for sure, but it will not be safe to look at with just your eyes at any point,” she said, noting that eclipse glasses are reasonably safe and pinhole projectors are 100 percent safe.
Larsen said people are already talking about the next solar eclipse, which is due on April 8, 2024, and will reach about 90 percent totality in Connecticut. As for the next time Connecticut will see a total solar eclipse, it will be May 1, 2079. Larsen said she and BB and her colleagues will not be around for that one.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.