Q: Your paper has printed numerous stories about the coming total solar eclipse on Monday, but I don’t remember ever seeing the time it will occur in Belleville. Could you enlighten us?
T. Murphy., of Belleville
A: I certainly wouldn’t want you left in the dark over this bit of vital information. Well, on second thought, I guess I do because anybody who’s even remotely interested in this astronomical event should be prepared Monday when the metro-east skies will experience an eerie daytime darkening for nearly three hours.
As you likely know, a total solar eclipse occurs when the earth, moon and sun are aligned such that the moon covers the face of the sun. At its height (if the weather cooperates), we can see the sun’s corona, an aura of plasma that makes up the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere and is usually hidden from our view by the sun’s brightness.
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However, as the moon’s shadow races across the United States, only people living in a narrow band — about 73 miles wide — will experience this complete totality. All others will see the sun blocked to a lesser degree depending how far north or south they live from this center line.
For the first time since 1442, many — but not all — metro-east resident will be able to experience this superspecial phenomenon of totality. Unfortunately, Belleville residents who live approximately north of Main Street and who choose to enjoy the eclipse from their backyards will not be among them. Nor will people in Fairview Heights, Collinsville or other towns and cities to the north. Oh, you’ll see the vast majority of the sun’s face blackened (please wear approved solar glasses if you look), but much of Belleville lies just north of the band of totality.
In general, the moon will start moving across the face of the sun in the center of Belleville precisely at 11:50:31 a.m.. The eclipse will reach its maximum (but not total) at 1:18:56 p.m. And at 2:44:56, all of the months of hoopla and excitement will be over. Only those people living roughly south of Main Street will experience anywhere from a second or two to as much as 45 seconds of totality. (I was able to blow up the map enough to see that my current home on Wesley Drive is not in the band, but my childhood home on South 16th will have 25.7 seconds of totality.)
On the other hand, Cahokia residents, will be treated to roughly 45 seconds of totality from 1:18:06 to 1:18:51. Any town lying roughly south of a diagonal from south St. Louis City to Venedy will experience totality as well, including Millstadt, Freeburg, Columbia and Waterloo. For an excellent aid, go to the interactive map at www.eclipse2017.org/xavier_redirect.htm. By clicking on any point on the map, you’ll instantaneously be given the times of the eclipse and totality if you live or want to travel to that 70-mile-wide band. If you have trouble navigating that map, you can see a list of times for major towns and cities at www.eclipsewise.com. Click on “solar eclipses” and then “Illinois” (or “Missouri”).
However, if you want to brave what some fear might be carmaggedon, you can experience the best that this eclipse has to offer — more than 21/2 minutes of totality. In fact, in the entire United States, Carbondale will have the longest period of totality at 2:40.3. However, many nearby towns will be close, including Chester (2:39), Pinckneyville (1:58), and Red Bud (2:21.)
If she were still alive, I’m sure my mom would want to chain me in my basement so I don’t “put my eyes out.” I remember how absolutely terrified she was in the 1960s when I insisted on experiencing a partial solar eclipse by watching it through one of those cardboard-box pinhole viewers, where the image of the sun is projected on a sheet of white paper. I think she already was planning my future life with a cane, tin cup and dark glasses. This time, my best college buddy is coming from the Quad Cities and, while we will be avoiding Salukitown, we will be headed south, perhaps to picturesque Maeystown or Prairie du Rocher.
If you’re interested, the eclipse will start on Oregon’s west coast at about 11:04 a.m. our time and end at 3:10 p.m. off the shore of South Carolina. That means the moon’s shadow will have raced across the country at an average of 1,850 mph. (Because of the Earth’s shape, the shadow travels at about 1,050 mph near the equator and up to 3,000 mph at the poles, according to NASA.)
Afterward, if you were forced to spend the day in a windowless cubicle (or, like my mom, were too afraid to poke your head outside), don’t miss “NOVA: Eclipse Over America” at 9 p.m. Monday on KETC-TV. Just hours after the event, NOVA will show not only footage of the eclipse from throughout the country but also discuss how scientists use eclipses to unlock secrets of the universe. The show will be repeated at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Who is the only known pope to be both born and buried on days that featured a solar eclipse?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: On Oct. 24, 2004, the lights went out on St. Louis Cardinal fans in more ways than one. In blanking the Birds 3-0 that night, the Boston Red Sox completed a four-game sweep to power their way to a World Series crown. And while the bad news mounted on the field at Busch Stadium, the light of the full moon was being extinguished overhead during what is said to be the only total lunar eclipse in World Series history. However, the dramatic celestial event proved a good omen for the visiting Bosox as they ended an 86-year title drought at the expense of the hometown boys. Called the Curse of the Bambino by many, it started after Boston traded the legendary Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season. The Sox hex ended at 10:40 p.m. when Edgar Renteria grounded to Boston closer Kevin Foulke for the final out. Ten minutes later, the moon returned to full brightness again, but there was no joy in Mudville that night.