Eclipse chaser: How to view the 2017 solar eclipse in Columbia

Friday, August 22, 2014 | 6:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Michael Bakich's pursuit of eclipses will bring him to Missouri on Aug. 21, 2017, when a total solar eclipse passes over the state.

Bakich, senior editor and photo editor of Astronomy Magazine, attended a community outreach event at Village Square Park that was part of the American Astronomical Society's MU-hosted workshop on planning for the 2017 eclipse. At the outreach event, people got a chance to gaze directly at the sun using specially-filtered telescopes and glasses.

Bakich explained how the eclipse in 2017 will look and feel in Columbia — in the sky and on the ground. He recommends people wear lenses with special solar filters and telescopes with similar filters to look at the sun. Looking at the eclipse without those lenses can cause temporary or permanent blindness.

One and a half hours before the eclipse, people with the special solar filters on telescopes and glasses will be able to look directly at the sun and see "the very first bite where the moon is passing in front of the sun's disc," Bakich said.

The moon will continue to advance in front of the sun, and within half an hour of the peak of the eclipse — when the moon completely blocks the main body of the sun and its light — "things start to get moody," Bakich said. Shadows get sharper, and spots not in shadow get more focused as sunlight is less scattered, he said.

Just before the peak, or totality, a "diamond ring" appears, Bakich said. The ring is the sun's corona — its glowing outer layer will be visible even around the body of the moon — and the diamond is the last of the sun's light being focused as the moon passes in front of it, he said.

Once in totality, the eclipse can be viewed safely without any solar filters. People who avert their gaze from the sky to the ground will see a very different landscape than what they are accustomed to at midday in summer.

In every direction the horizon will look like it does at sunset, animals will come in to roost, thinking that night is approaching, and the temperature might drop as much as 20 degrees over the course of an hour, Bakich said. The lowest temperature is reached about 10 minutes after totality and the drop is more noticeable if the day is humid, he said.

After the eclipse, all of the sights and effects happen in reverse as summer midday conditions return.

Bakich is planning an eclipse-viewing event in St. Joseph — where his wife's parents live — at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, he said. He expects 30,000 people will attend on the day of the eclipse in 2017, and the event will be simulcast on PBS, he said.

Kelly Korreck, a Smithsonian astrophysicist working with Harvard University and attending the American Astronomical Society workshop on planning for the eclipse, also was at the community outreach event.

Korreck still has memories of an eclipse her parents took her to when she was very young. She described an "eerie yet awe-inspiring darkness with no moonlight or sunlight."

Bakich has some advice on how to best experience the eclipse three years from now.

Don't waste the moment trying to photograph the eclipse, especially if it will be the first eclipse someone has ever seen, Bakich said.  "Adjusting and operating a camera will take your focus off the spectacle in the sky," so just enjoy the eclipse while it lasts, he said.

Of the 13 eclipses Bakich has seen in places like Peru, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Easter Island and Australia, only one has ever been clouded out — on land in China, he said.

Unlike comets, meteor showers and supernovae that are usually only visible at night in remote locations away from lights, the 2017 eclipse "is a guarantee," Bakich said.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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