The time has come and the total eclipse is finally upon us.
That's right, the solar eclipse that people have been buzzing about for more than a year is happening as the moon blocks the light of the sun from about 11:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. CST Monday in a path that will run across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.
While Houston is not in the path of totality there will still be plenty of people pausing to watch the momentous event (and plenty of places in Houston to do so, as we've noted) since Houstonians should be able to see about two-thirds of the eclipse based on the spherical distance between the sun, the moon and our location.
So essentially, we won't have the ringside seats up close to the action, but Houston will still be a spot where you can witness this rare occurrence. (The last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States was in 1918 and the last solar eclipse to happen in the United States occurred in 1979.)
Overall, that might prove to be just fine. Why?
Well there's a chance that things could get pretty interesting (not necessarily in a fun way) along the path of totality. For one thing, the eclipse pathway is jam-packed with people who have come from all over the country to see the eclipse in full.
Interest in the eclipse is so intense that the Wyoming Highway State Patrol has announced a ban on oversize or overweight loads, even if the trucker has a permit to do so from Sunday to Tuesday. This may sound a little extreme, but Wyoming officials are taking these measures due to do concerns about traffic congestion that is expected to be well above the norms for the area, and the chance that distracted drivers may be so busy trying to see the eclipse that they smack into each other. So they're simplifying some of the risks by taking the oversize truckers out of the equation.
It is also expected that cell phone service may get dodgy along the path of totality and that food and fuel may become scarce in the more remote areas of Wyoming. And the eclipse will likely mess with power supplies in places like California where the electrical grid has started using more solar energy, but these sorts of issues have been anticipated.
But there are some things about the solar eclipse we simply won't know until it happens. Most people will have their eyes trained on the sky on Monday (albeit while protected by special eclipse glasses since it is decidedly true that looking at the sun with the naked eye during a solar eclipse can burn your retina and cause you to go blind, as we've noted) but some scientists will be watching how plants and animals respond to the eclipse.
In the direct path, the sun will go dark for about two and a half minutes and the temperature will plunge by about 10 degrees. While we know that animals tend to notice the change and react to it (mostly by just assuming it's night) there's not a lot of scientific study on what happens since eclipses are so rare. However, scientists are taking steps to remedy that in the Midwest by specifically recording what happens to crops and livestock when the sun gets temporarily turned off, according to NPR.
NASA scientists are getting in on the action, too. The federal space agency is funding 11 studies that will take advantage of the eclipse to test new instruments, study the sun and record the effects of the eclipse on the Earth.
And even though attention will be focused on the 70-mile-wide path of totality, Houston still has a role to play.
NASA jets, re-purposed WB-57s from the 1960s, will take off from Ellington Field in Houston and race across the country chasing the eclipse from 50,000 feet. By traveling at 460 mph, photographers aboard the two jets will be able to record about four minutes of the eclipse. Once the images are captured they will provide scientists with about seven and a half minutes of eclipse footage, capturing enough material about the solar corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, to keep scientists occupied for years.
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