ITHACA, N.Y. — The skies will darken briefly for a rare celestial event this month — a solar eclipse spanning the United States.
Unfortunately, Ithaca is not in the “path of totality,” meaning it will not be possible to see the sun completely blocked by the moon here, but the partial eclipse will still make for an extraordinary sight.
On Aug. 21, the moon will pass between the sun and earth — and for some in the United States — completely block the sun.
Professor Phillip Nicholson, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, said it’s easiest to picture a solar eclipse as the moon casting a shadow. He said the moon will always have a shadow behind it, the question is whether the shadow happens to intersect Earth.
The total solar eclipse will be visible to a narrow 67-mile-wide path across 14 states — from Lincoln Beach, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Ithaca is nearly 600 miles from the closest point on the path of totality, but weather permitting, Ithaca will see a 70 percent eclipse.
In Ithaca, the partial eclipse will be gradual and last two to three hours, Nicholson said. According to a calculator by Vox, the partial solar eclipse will peak at 2:38 p.m. in Ithaca.
During the partial eclipse, a crescent of the sun will be visible.
In places where there will be a total solar eclipse, it will last only a couple minutes, but the event will be striking if the skies are clear.
Nicholson has never seen a total solar eclipse himself, but said people who have seen it tend to catch “the bug” and want to see more.
Eclipse chasing is a centuries-old tradition. Some who call themselves “eclipse chasers” have seen dozens of solar eclipses.
Nicholson said people who witness solar eclipses describe “what an overwhelmingly strange feeling it is.”
When the moon completely blocks the sun for those couple minutes, viewers will see a halo of light around the sun.
Solar eclipses are not a rare event on Earth. There are about two visible from Earth a year. But, the chances of them happening at a particular place on Earth are rarer, Nicholson said.
The eclipse this month will be the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in nearly a century, according to NASA. It will also be the first total eclipse exclusive to the United States since before the nation was founded in 1776.
Though far from the path of totality this year, Ithaca will be close to a total solar eclipse in 2024. Rochester and Buffalo will be right at the center of the path of totality, but people in Ithaca will only have to drive about 40 minutes north to see the total eclipse as the path of totality begins just south of Romulus and Union Springs.
It may be for the best if you’re stuck in Ithaca this year. Airfare and room prices in cities in the path of totality have skyrocketed as the eclipse nears.
Viewing the eclipse in Ithaca
Anyone who plans to take a look at the eclipse needs to wear protection, and sunglasses won’t cut it. Looking directly at the sun and partial eclipse can cause permanent damage.
While it may seem strange to stand under trees to view the partial eclipse, Nicholson recommends it.
“If you stand in the shadow of trees in a place where sunlight is filtering through the leaves, then all the gaps between leaves, each will make an image of the sun. If you put paper down on the ground, you see all these images of crescents,” Nicholson said. “That is a striking thing.”
Essentially, the leaves act like a pinhole camera.
It should be noted that unsafe eclipse glasses have been circulated. NASA released a guide for how to tell if eclipse glasses are safe. NASA advises to look for the manufacturer name and the ISO icon. The glasses must have ISO reference 12312-2. Also, if lenses have scratches or are wrinkled, do not use them. It is also not recommended to use glasses older than three years.
There is a list of reputable eclipse glasses vendors here.
And just as looking at the sun can cause permanent damage to eyes, it can also damage cameras that are not protected with a solar filter.
NASA will have a live stream of the solar eclipse.
Featured image: NASA photo of solar eclipse in 2012.