What is it like to experience a solar eclipse?
Some have cried. Some cussed. Some say they sat silent, overwhelmed by the daytime darkness, the noticeable dip in temperature, and the sudden change in the behavior of animals and wildlife.
The coming solar eclipse on Aug. 21, where the moon will block the sun’s rays from reaching parts of the world, including Carbondale, Ill., has astronomy buffs excited.
For Steve Sands, 56, of Alton, watching a solar eclipse is a religious experience. First an “agnostic Methodist” who married a Catholic woman, Sands said astronomy made him a religious man.
“To me it is all part of the plan,” he said.
There are too many specific details that need to be just right for a total eclipse to happen for it to be anything other than by design, he said.
Consider this: The sun is 400 times larger than the moon. In order for the moon to cover the sun, as it will during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, the moon has to be just right in space in relation to the Earth and Sun. Too far from Earth, and the moon won’t block the sun. Sands says the moon also has to be at the right plane — not too high, and not too low — and at the right tilt.
“That five degrees is all the difference in the world,” he said.
And all this has to happen during the day, obviously.
“It’s a religious experience, without exaggeration,” Sands said, who last saw an eclipse in Toronto in 1979 and will see this one at a friend’s place in DeSoto, Mo., far from crowds.
“You’re looking at a nuclear furnace that is our star,” said Eddie Agha, who leads astronomical observations at The Nature Institute in Godfrey. He uses special filters on telescopes and cameras to look at the sun’s “visual phenomena” throughout the year.
“There is nobody who does that who is not moved by it,” he said of looking at the sun. This will be his first solar eclipse, and he plans to watch it in Missouri’s Klondike Park. He’s had a ticket to be there for months, and says many state parks are booked.
“I’m hoping it happens where I go,” Agha said, in a nod to weather.
It’s a “miracle” to Rich Fefferman and his wife, Diane, of Belleville.
“The miracle of eclipses — that the moon and the sun look about the same size,” he said. “None of the other planets and moons have anything like this.”
The Feffermans are eclipse chasers, having traveled internationally to see solar eclipses.
Diane and Rich said their experience in Zambia, in Southern Africa in 2001, was part of an expedition, where they stayed at a hotel recently constructed for the eclipse — the bathroom was missing a toilet seat and shower curtain — as part of a tour package.
Diane said the whole trip was “an experience” and the reaction to the event was “enthusiastic” with lots of cheering. She said reaction was more subdued but still overwhelming in Australia in 2002; she shed tears at both eclipses.
Even as eclipse veterans — there was a disappointing cloudy day that would have been a third solar eclipse for Rich — they are excited about this one because of who will get to come along.
“This time will be unique, because we’ve got the kids,” Rich said. He’ll be watching the reactions of his children — ages 9, 10 and 13 — as much as he watches the sky.
At a glance
Solar eclipse viewing tips from astronomy buffs:
- “You must not stare at the sun with an unaided eye,” says Rich Fefferman, an astronomy enthusiast from Belleville. Before you buy or use eclipse glasses, make sure they are ISO 12312-2 certified.
- If using a pinhole box, practice with it before the eclipse and keep the pinhole as small as possible, Rich’s wife Diane Fefferman said.
- If you want to take photos, set up ahead of time and use filters meant for the shot.
- Better yet, don’t take photos. Eddie Agha will have several practices in with setting up the cameras, telescopes and binoculars all fitted with filters approved for solar-watching. “I plan to be prepared, but I’m not going to fall on the sword. The goal is to watch.”