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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Rarity"

Written by Paul Sutter on Sunday, 27 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

I swear this will be my last memo about the eclipse. About a week before the big day, someone asked on my whiteboard what made this one so rare and special.

The deepest part of the moon's shadow touches the Earth about once every two years, but you may have noticed that most of the planet is uninhabited. The next total eclipse will occur on July 2, 2019. It will start east of New Zealand, cross through the southern Pacific over absolutely nobody, then slice across northern Chile and Argentina - cutting a path between Santiago and Buenos Aires - in the hours before sunset.

The next total eclipse here in Columbus won't occur until April 2024, where we'll be right at the edge of totality. A quick trip north to Mansfield or Cleveland will get you in view...assuming the clouds don't interfere. Carbondale, Illinois is especially lucky: not only were they near the point of greatest duration for this past one, but they'll also get a taste of the 2024 totality.

After that, Columbus won't get another chance at totality until 2099. So total solar eclipses are common...but also very, very rare.

"The Eclipse Science Festival"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 21 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Well after all the hype, anticipation, and preparation, the eclipse has come and gone. As usual for a massive event like this, there were plenty of excited people, frightened people, cautious people, reckless people, and so on. The usual mix. But the eclipse itself was a spectacular show, delighting and captivating millions. Hundreds of millions!

To me, one of the most overlooked aspects of the eclipse is how accurately and precisely we can predict it. Think about it: we could know the precise second when it was safe to remove our glasses to see totality.

That kind of precision doesn't come easily, and it's only after centuries of theoretical development (e.g., having a better understanding of complicated gravitational interactions) and experimental development (e.g., extremely accurate measurements of the gradual recession of the moon) that we were able to make such predictions.

Combined with satellite-based topographical maps and forecasts of local weather conditions, we could predict the best viewing spots well in advance.

So nature is doing all the work in putting on a show, but I think the eclipse rightly qualified as a nationwide science festival.

"See You in the Shadow"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 14 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Depending on when you read this, the Great American Eclipse will either be about to happen or will have happened. This incredibly rare event - the last cross-country total solar eclipse occurred in 1918 - is an amazing opportunity for the entire nation to celebrate and witness one of nature's most intriguing spectacles.

Along the path of totality, skywatchers will be treated to a rare celestial combination: the disk of the moon completely covering the face of the sun, blocking its light and allowing the corona, its tenuous but fiery atmosphere, to get its chance to shine.

Outside totality it's not too shabby either. Everyone in the continental US gets at least 65% coverage, with the worst spots in the northeast and along the Mexican border. Hundreds of millions of people will get to look up at the sky - safely! - and simply enjoy the show.

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