What’s that up in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it the apocalypse? No, it’s a total
eclipse of the heart solar eclipse. This celestial event, where the moon will pass through the sun’s path and shade parts of the Earth, is scheduled to happen next Monday, August 21, from roughly 11:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. CST.
By now, your mind has probably automatically started playing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” so let’s just go ahead and get that out of our system so that we can move on to focusing on how Houstonians can enjoy the eclipse.
There, now that we've seen the video, are we done? Great.
James Wooten, a planetarium astronomer with the Houston Museum of Natural Science, was kind enough to explain a few details about the rarity of this event.
"This is the first time the moon’s shadow has landed on the U.S. in a very long time," he says.
Wooten mentioned that the last time a solar eclipse happened in the U.S. was in 1979. Even then, viewing was limited as the trajectory took it through parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest and into Canada.
When it comes to getting the best view, it’s all a matter of perspective. The place where there will be a total eclipse – known as the “path of totality” – won’t occur near Houston. Instead, imagine drawing a line on the globe from Madras, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina. The places along that line will see a total eclipse, whereas we here in Houston will see only about a two-thirds eclipse based on the spherical distance between the sun, the moon and our location on Earth.
While the eclipse will take close to three hours to come and go, the moment of full blockage of the sun will last only about two and a half minutes for those watching from the path of totality.
That doesn’t mean Houstonians have to miss out on all the fun, though. Several organizations and groups have organized watch parties for people to gather and witness the cosmic event. Below is our short list of the best activities and their start times:
Children's Museum of Houston
The museum claims it can sneak a sunrise past a rooster — and with its current plans for the eclipse, we believe them. You’re invited to look on the sunny side and hang out when it’s shady out. Activities include making an eclipse pinhole viewer and learning how to use it during the viewing party. Don't miss the museum's workshop on Saturday, August 19 to learn how to construct your very own viewer.
University of Houston Astronomy Society
There will be solar goggles, filtered telescopes, pinhole projection assemblies, demos, live streaming of footage courtesy of NASA and more.
Brazosport Center for the Arts & Sciences
The BASF Planetarium will host a solar eclipse viewing. Visitors can be confident that they will see the eclipse, even if it rains, as the BASF Planetarium will show NASA's live eclipse feed on the planetarium’s ceiling. Outside, sky-watchers can observe the eclipse with the aid of special viewing glasses and the assistance of the Brazosport Astronomy Club.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
As expected, the HMNS is a natural place to start when it comes to anything space-related. Both the Hermann Park location and the Sugar Land satellite will have activities for people to learn about and observe the eclipse, including movies as well as volunteers on hand to help those who want to view the eclipse outside. The museum will also have a live feed from Casper, Wyoming, which is in the path of totality. Attendees can also purchase special glasses from the gift shop to better view the eclipse.
For those who have the coins to drop on something extravagant and the time to travel the path of totality, Texas' favorite airline will take stargazers into the sky for an unparalleled experience. The carrier has identified scheduled flights most likely to experience maximum effects of the eclipse and will give customers on those flights commemorative flair, including special viewing glasses, cosmic cocktails, and social-media engagement across the atmosphere on Southwest's gate-to-gate WiFi. Check the website for participating flights.
If you can't make it out to any of the watch parties, you can always enjoy it from the comfort of your home or office by following these safety tips.
And as always, when trying to view the eclipse, safety comes first. We all have heard our elders remind us to not stare directly at the sun. The same rule applies even during its darkening.
Wooten advises, "You must project the sun onto a screen or use a filter especially made for looking at the sun. You can’t look directly at the sun. It will damage your eyes."
But even then, spotty weather might thwart Houston's ability to view the eclipse in all its glorious, cornea-scorching beauty.
"You have to see the sun to see the eclipse," says Wooten. "If there is no sun, you can’t see the eclipse."
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The Weather Channel currently predicts isolated thunderstorms for August 21, but you never know what Mother Nature may decide to do that day. She's known to be fickle with her decisions regarding Houston's weather.
Fear not, stargazers who fall victim to whimsical weather, can’t get the afternoon off to watch the eclipse, or don't have the coins to spend on a flight. If you can’t make it out to watch on Monday, you’ll get another chance, albeit it in 2024. This one is also better suited for Texas.
"On April 8, 2024, you can to go to the Hill Country or Austin metroplex for the best view," Wooten says. And if you want to stay in Houston, you'll still get a great view.
"Houston will have a very deep partial eclipse...this time about 90 percent. It’s going to be much more of the sun than what will be blocked in the 2017 eclipse."