July 2017

                               Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on July 23rd. For July, your best viewing nights will be from July 12th to the 26th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on July 15th at 9 pm.  Note: A table of contents for earlier columns is located in the July 2016 column.

Total Eclipse of the Sun:
A total solar eclipse of the Sun occurs during a New Moon when the Sun and Moon are perfectly aligned so the disk of the Moon totally covers the Sun. We have a New Moon every month, but because the orbit of the Moon is tipped in relation to the plane of the Sun and Earth, the perfect alignment is quite rare for any given location on the Earth, see image below.

Get Ready for the Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017:
The solar eclipse next month is such an important event that you should be thinking about and preparing for it this month. No one in South Carolina should miss seeing this event! No one in South Carolina should witness this event outside the area of totality. If you have no means of transportation, plan ahead. Ask a friend to take you. Take a bus or train to Charleston area or Columbia area. The path of totality for the eclipse is shown below. The closer you are to the center of this path, the longer will be the totality. Therefore, some of the best locations close to the Florence area are: Santee, Monck’s Corner, and Lexington.

Most people only see a total solar eclipse once, and at most twice in a lifetime. The last total eclipse in Florence was in 1970, 47 years ago.  The next total solar eclipse in Florence will be in 2078, 61 years from now. Therefore, the time between total solar eclipses in Florence, SC will be 108 years. Now I admit that these times/dates are a little misleading, because although the total solar eclipse of 2017 next month will not be seen in Florence, it will only be a short drive away.

So where should you go? Since you are going to drive to see the total eclipse, go to a location closest to the center path of totality. The total eclipse is a thrilling, possibly once in a lifetime experience, so maximize your time in totality. For this eclipse, the times of totality will range from 1 minute to a maximum of 2 minutes 40 seconds.  Check the path of totality map above. Your locations in South Carolina for maximum totality are along a line running directly through: Clemson, Lexington, Santee, and Monck’s Corner. Next, plan ahead, choose a viewing site, and check with the local area tourist centers or chamber of commerce to find out where the best actual viewing locations will be in your location of choice.  If possible, drive there a week or so before to get a feel of the area. Note: there is a great unknown factor that will affect your viewing site. We have no idea at all how many people will be at any given location, or what the potential for traffic congestion will be; assume the worse and plan ahead.  Many schools and government offices on the totality path will be closed on that day; Monday August 21, 2017.

One national eclipse center used statistical analyses and plotted data for the point where Interstate 95 crosses the center of the totality, and from that determined that about 75 million east coast people are in driving distance of the eclipse at Santee, SC; the data then projected visitor numbers would range from 500,000 to 2 million in central South Carolina.

What to bring? The only unique and necessary tools are eclipse viewing eyeglasses. Do not try to design your own glasses using dark sunglasses or welder’s glasses; not every welder’s glasses are suitable.  Make sure the glasses are labeled for viewing the sun/solar eclipse. If you use the wrong dark glasses, you can permanently damage your eyes and be unaware that it has happened until several hours later. There are thousands of cardboard eclipse glasses available for free at many science centers, museums and colleges, and they are fine to use.  You can also buy better plastic eclipse glasses on line for $5 to $10.

Only during totality can you remove your eclipse glasses to view the eclipsed Sun with your naked eyes. Hopefully you will see a nice corona as shown below. In addition, you will see the stars come out.

Please note that some locations, colleges, science centers, outside the path of totality are forced to set up eclipse viewing events because of internal politics. Please do not be tempted to go to non-totality viewing events. If for some reason you choose to stay in Florence and see a partial eclipse, remember, during a partial solar eclipse, you can never take off your eclipse glasses when looking toward the Sun.

To be continued next month. See you then!

Special eclipse information you may not read about anywhere else.

Naked Eye Sights: Sagittarius and Scorpius are moving into the southern sky. Enjoy the stars and constellations of summer. Also, if you go away from the city lights, you should easily see our Milky Way Galaxy.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): In the south, slowly follow the Summer Milky Way from the southern horizon upwards.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): The clusters above Sagittarius and Scorpius. Saturn and Jupiter.

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): The clusters and nebulas above and between Sagittarius and Scorpius. Saturn and Jupiter.

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