A dark day is coming for Brazoria County, but there’s no need to worry. It’s a total solar eclipse, a celestial quirk that will block the sun and dim the day all across the width of the United States on Monday.
It’s a rare treat, the first total solar eclipse to cross the width of the United States since 1918.
“The position of the sun and the position of the Earth are rarely such a way that the moon creates a shadow over the path of the sunlight coming towards the Earth,” said Wes Copeland, executive director of the Center for the Arts and Sciences.
The moon travels between the Earth and sun about once a month, but its tilted orbit means it’s usually too low or too high to block the sun’s light. It’s also much smaller than the sun, so the planets must align in exactly the right way to cause an eclipse.
Even with this perfect lineup, the eclipse will only be total — meaning the sun will be completely blotted out — in a 70 mile-wide line that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. Here in Texas the eclipse will be partial, meaning the moon will mostly cover the sun and the day will get much dimmer.
“There is no other planet that has this incredible set up,” Planetarium Director Judi James said. “The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and 400 times farther away, so you can have both lunar and solar eclipses.”
James and other center staff are excited about the event, and they want to share that excitement with the community.
The answer was the Solar Eclipse Viewing Event, a party that offers eclipse viewing options, planetary models and fun demonstrations. The most important will be a crash course on safety, since staring directly at the sun can cause serious eye damage or blindness.
“You can look at stars because they’re so far away. You can look at the moon because it’s the reflected light of the sun,” James said. “It is not safe to look at the sun, even at the crescent of the sun during the eclipse.”
James especially cautioned observers not to use binoculars or telescopes, since they concentrate sunlight and will instantly blind the viewer. Only those with professional grade solar filters can safely observe an eclipse through a telescope. Fortunately, the Center for the Arts and Sciences has several safe viewing options available. The first is eclipse glasses — paper glasses with solar filters that will be on sale for $2.
“They’re safe for solar viewing,” James said. “There are four companies that NASA approves of, and we have glasses from two of those companies.”
The center also will have solar-filtered binoculars and telescopes, as well as a live eclipse feed projected onto the planetarium’s dome for those who don’t want to risk eye damage or like to stay in the air-conditioning. The Brazosport Astronomy Club will assist viewers and center volunteers will lead eclipse demonstrations.
Visitors may also have a chance to get on TV. Fox 26 Morning News will broadcast live feeds from the event throughout the day and report on the special solar experience.
Harold Nicoll, community liaison for the eclipse event, said the center is attracting visitors from all around.
“It’s a world-class facility,” Nicoll said. “We have people coming from out of town. We’re a destination worth traveling for.”
Some may not be able to duck out of school or work to view the eclipse, but local teachers have kids covered.
At Our Lady Queen of Peace, students and staff will gather at the school’s soccer field at 1 p.m. with NASA-approved safety glasses.
Students prepared for the event with discovery exercises like making moveable models and a solar eclipse projector. Private parties are popping up as well, and Copeland cautioned that everyone should be sure to protect their eyes while enjoying the rare phenomenon from home.
“Our primary concern is safety,” he said.