Five eclipse facts to read up on before Monday



The upcoming Aug. 21, total eclipse of the sun is on the move. Maps, provided by NASA and others, show a crisply defined, 70-mile-wide path of totality where the moon will block 100 percent of the sun, but they are not as precise as they appear, at least on their edges. “Yeah, all the maps are wrong,” said Mike Kentrianakis, who is the solar eclipse project manager for the American Astronomical Society. (Dreamstime/TNS)

By Samantha Keebler

The highly-publicized and much-anticipated total solar eclipse has nearly arrived and all of southern Illinois is bracing itself for the flood of spectators sure to turn up by Aug. 21. Tens of thousands of people are expected to arrive in Carbondale and the surrounding towns, and the university has been preparing for eclipse weekend for years.

Though the eclipse has become a daily topic of conversation for many southern Illinoisans, here are five facts about it you might not know. 




Effects in atmosphere

During an eclipse, Earth’s stratosphere closely resembles Mars’ thin, cool atmosphere. The similarity increases as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. The moon blocks much of the sun’s ultraviolet rays from reaching Earth, which decreases the stratosphere’s already low temperature and makes for a Mars-like environment.

Eclipse Ballooning Project

NASA has partnered with students across the nation to collect data and live-stream footage of the eclipse. Their initiative, called the Eclipse Ballooning Project, entails having students release balloons along the line of totality. The balloons will carry populations of bacteria to the stratosphere. This will allow researchers to learn more about Mars’ habitability and could possibly pave the way for human colonization of other planets. SIU’s campus will host ballooning teams from Louisiana State University, according to Bob Baer, the co-chair of the university’s Solar Eclipse Steering Committee.

Inner solar corona

As an eclipse occurs, the overlapping of the moon and sun exposes the inner corona of the sun. This is the best way to study the inner corona, which contains a lot of space weather movement. Space weather includes changes in the radiation emitted by the sun, changes in magnetic fields surrounding Earth and solar wind. It is important for scientists to understand space weather because it is what enables (or disrupts) radio wave communication, power grid operation, GPS and satellite function and even affects Earth’s climate.


Solar eclipse myths

Cultures throughout history have thought of eclipses as harbingers of disruption in the natural order of their lives. In an attempt to understand their world, some groups personified the moon and the sun. One example of this is the Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin, Africa who, according to astronomer Jarita Holbrook, deduced the two celestial bodies were quarrelling and needed to be persuaded to stop and make amends. To the Batammaliba people, the dispute represented the need for reconciliation and healing.

How and why are eclipses possible?

The explanation for the reason an eclipse happens is simple. Earth orbits the sun in a specific path, tilting and spinning along the way. The moon, which orbits Earth, is tilted 5 degrees and is therefore not in Earth’s exact plane. In order for a solar eclipse to occur, the moon must be tilted in such a way that its plane crosses Earth’s. This is only possible during the New Moon phase, when the moon, the sun and our Earth share a plane. When this happens, the sun’s light hits the moon, which creates a shadow on the surface of Earth. An eclipse is awesome, rare and scientifically fascinating, but it is not inexplicable.

Staff writer Samantha Keebler can be reached at [email protected].

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