NEW JERSEY — The United States will experience a solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, which New Jerseyans can partially view—if the weather cooperates.
If you lived in one of the 14 states the eclipse is crossing with its 70-mile wide path, you’d be all set.
But if you use safety glasses to view the event, between 1:23 p.m. and 4 p.m., and most especially at 2:44 p.m., you’ll be able to see a partial eclipse. The sun will look like a crescent moon.
In Illinois, which will experience the eclipse for the longest period of time, the phenomenon will last less than three minutes.
Astronomy lecturer Paul Cirillo was on hand at the Montville Township Public library on Aug. 2 to give residents a taste of the Great American Solar Eclipse, as it’s being called.
“The first half of my talk is to convince you to go see this,” he said with a laugh.
He said this eclipse will occur only over the U.S., which hasn’t happened since 1778.
“They happen all over the earth, though,” he said.
A 1925 eclipse, for instance, cut across northern Manhattan, he said.
The sun, moon and earth line up perfectly to make an eclipse about every 18 months, but the shadow is often in uninhabited portions of the planet, he said.
When it comes to solar eclipses, New Jersey isn’t totally “in the dark” historically.
New Jersey’s own Menlo Park inventor Thomas Edison traveled to Wyoming with a group of other scientists to view the 1878 eclipse. The 31-year-old had just invented the phonograph. He wanted to test his newest invention: the tasimeter, Cirillo said.
The tasimeter measures small changes in temperature. Unfortunately, Edison was trying to measure the temperature of the corona of the sun, and it gave off so much heat that it was off the scale of the invention. Before Edison could readjust the scale, the eclipse was over.
Some say that during the fishing trip that followed the eclipse, a bamboo rod was thrown onto a campfire, and when Edison saw the way it burned in individual strands, it “sparked” an interest in him to use bamboo in light bulb filaments. Others regard this story as myth.
Princeton professor Albert Einstein also has ties to solar eclipses. The events confirmed his Theory of General Relativity, which states that all masses cause a curvature of space-time.
During the 1919 eclipse, scientists measured the positions of stars, then compared them with their normal positions in the sky and proved Einstein’s theory. After The New York Times published the findings, Einstein became a household name.
Cirillo advised those traveling to see the eclipse to plan ahead, and take plenty of water and food.
“Watch out for traffic jams, because you’ll have to move if the weather is going to be bad where you were planning to watch,” he said.
Humidity in the air and rain will affect watching conditions. Further, about 200 million people live within one hour’s drive of the path of the eclipse, according to NASA’s eclipse website.
“But in New Jersey, the sky will not turn dark,” he said.
No matter what, he said, residents should wear special viewing glasses to see the eclipse.
“They’re inexpensive and readily available,” he said. “You need to supervise children in their use.”
Sad if you’re not able to travel to see this one? You can head to Argentina for the next eclipse, in the summer of 2019, or you can stay in the U.S. for the 2024 eclipse. But your closest vantage point will be Syracuse, New York, or in the Adirondacks.
The books “Edison and His Inventions: Including the Many Incidents, Anecdotes and Interesting Particulars,” edited by James Baird McClure and “Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon that Changed the Course of History” by Duncan Steel, and these articles: Space and Eclipses were also used to research this article.