Three fascinating facts about a total solar eclipse

Fact #1: They’re extremely rare

Solar eclipses themselves (partial or annular) aren’t all that rare—in fact, there are between two and five solar eclipses each year. But a total solar eclipse—that is, when the moon completely blocks out the sun’s rays—that’s once in a lifetime or less.

Explained science writer David Baron, in a TED Talk earlier this month: “Any given point on earth experiences a total eclipse about once every 400 years.”

Charleston, S.C. is in the path of totality for next week’s eclipse—a total solar eclipse is only experienced if you’re in the path of totality. It’s something that won’t happen again until our great, great, great grandchildren are born. And, if you happen to miss it, worry not, the continental U.S. will experience five more total solar eclipses over the next 35 years. But you’ll have to travel to see them.

Fact #2: Weird things will happen

Baron, a self-proclaimed umbraphile (eclipse chaser), gives us a preview of what we might see if the skies are clear next Monday: “About 10 minutes before the total solar eclipse was set to begin, weird things started to happen. A cool wind kicked up. Daylight looked odd and shadows became very strange; they looked bizarrely sharp, as if someone had turned up the contrast knob on the TV. . . . I glanced upward and I was dumbstruck. . . . I’d seen blue skies and grey skies and starry skies and angry skies and pink skies at sunrise. But here was a sky I had never seen.

“First, there were the colors. Up above, it was a deep purple-grey, like twilight. But on the horizon it was orange, like sunset, 360 degrees. And up above, in the twilight, bright stars and planets had come out. So there was Jupiter and there was Mercury and there was Venus. They were all in a line. And there, along this line, was this thing, this glorious, bewildering thing. It looked like a wreath woven from silvery thread, and it just hung out there in space, shimmering. That was the sun’s outer atmosphere, the solar corona.

“[P]ictures just don’t do it justice. It’s not just a ring or halo around the sun; it’s finely textured, like it’s made out of strands of silk. And although it looked nothing like our sun, of course, I knew that’s what it was. So there was the sun, and there were the planets, and I could see how the planets revolve around the sun. It’s like I had left our solar system and was standing on some alien world, looking back at creation.” It was, said Baron, “the ultimate experience of awe.”

Fact #3: 93 seconds

A total solar eclipse can last a maximum of seven minutes and 30 seconds. In Charleston next week, the total solar eclipse will last for one minute and 33 seconds. At other points in Earth, it’ll last up to two minutes and 40 seconds—it all depends on how close you are to the center line. In South Carolina, the center line is 33 miles north of Charleston, or halfway between Awendaw and McClellanville. At that spot, the total solar eclipse will last for two minutes and 34 seconds.

Bonus facts: · Two hours and 52 minutes – the eclipse experience will take nearly three hours to complete. At 1:16 p.m., the moon will begin to partially block out the sun; at 2:46 p.m., the sun will be completely hidden by the moon for 93 seconds (the moon will be moving at nearly 1,400 mph across the sun), then complete its cycle at 4:09 p.m.

· 400 times smaller, 400 times closer – In the earth’s sky, the sun and the moon appear to be the same size because while the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, it’s 400 times closer to Earth. But it does vary, as explained by “The Earth-Sun distance varies by 3 percent and the Moon-Earth distance by 12 percent. The result is that the Moon’s apparent diameter can range from 7 percent larger to 10 percent smaller than the Sun.”

Daniel Island Publishing

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