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Total solar eclipse next week will be a rare, memorable sight – and a vivid science lesson


1.gifPick a quote or interesting fact from an eclipse preview and tell why it grabs you.

2.gifList two things you learn from different nature or science coverage.

3.gifSummarize another rarity or gee-whiz topic in the news.

Millions of Americans wearing dark-filter glasses will look up next Monday to see a spectacular show that's a once-in-a-generation experience. The moon will photobomb our view of the sun on April 8, creating a rare total solar eclipse over parts of 15 states. Dallas is the biggest city in the full blackout path, which also crosses Little Rock, Ark.; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Erie, Pa.; Buffalo, N.Y., and the tiny town of Houlton, Maine as the last area to be shadowed in daytime darkness. Nearly 32 million people live inside the path of totality, according to NASA. Millions more will travel to marvel at one of nature's most amazing spectacles. Partial views will be seen in areas alongside the fully darkened corridor.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun on a path that makes the moon's diameter seem as large as the sun's – blocking all direct sunlight. Suddenly the sky is as dark as night for eerie minutes, the temperature falls, birds roost as though it were night and some stars emerge. Quick science lesson: The moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but it's about 400 times closer to us. When these celestial bodies align, they appear to be the same size. That's the only time the ethereal solar corona (sun's outer atmosphere) is visible without a large, powerful telescope.

"You do not have to be a scientist, an astronomer or a bearded man with a telescope to enjoy the total eclipse experience," posts Australian "eclipse chaser" Kate Russo, who says she has has seen 13 of them. All that's needed are solar-filter glasses to protect eyes while the sun is visible and darkening camera lens filters for use before and after the 100% blackout. (Don't use a phone camera.)

Eclipse-watch gatherings are offered at parks, beaches, schools and hotels, complete with commemorative T-shirts and other souvenirs for sale. The Sonic restaurant chain this week introduced a Blackout Slush Float, and Delta Airlines has two flights from Austin to Detroit on April 8 that will travel directly within the path of totality. A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months. But in specific areas, the awesome event comes once every 375 years. The next chances to see a total solar eclipse over the continental United States will be in 2044, in North Dakota and Montana, and in 2045 as it crosses from California to Florida.

'Eclipse chaser' says: "Totality is awe-inspiring, beautiful, eerie and emotional. The hair on the back of your neck rises and goose bumps cover your arms." – Kate Russo of Australia

Astronomer says: "You see the distant shadow of the moon rushing up on you. The crescent of sunlight that's left is getting gradually thinner and thinner. You start seeing lighting effects in the environment around you." – James Lattis, University of Wisconsin

Editor says: "People laugh, cry, stare dumbfounded, jump up and down." -- Peter Tyson, editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.