In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, fourth graders at Clardy Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo. practice the proper use of their eclipse glasses in anticipation of Monday's solar eclipse.

Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

The Solar Eclipse: What's The Fuss All About?

August 21, 2017

Joe Mathieu: Good morning, you're listening to WGBH's Morning Edition. I'm Joe Mathieu. We've all been hearing a lot about the big solar eclipse of 2017. Is there any way it can live up to the hype? This is a national event, but what can we expect here in the Boston area? Joining us to answer our questions is WGBH radio correspondent Arun Rath. He's in Nevada right now, on the road making his way to the path of totality. Good morning, Arun. What's the fuss all about?

Arun Rath: Well, it is supposed to look really, really cool to just put it in very basic terms. From the descriptions — and I've never experienced it myself, this will be my first one — a total solar eclipse is supposed to be just an amazing, otherworldly thing to see, the sun completely blocked out by the moon. When the moon is blocking out the sun that way, that allows us to see the sun's corona. That's — the sun has an atmosphere, which is sort of weird to think about, and most of the time that atmosphere is invisible because the brightness of the sun makes it invisible. Not only can we observe it when there's a total solar eclipse — you can see that sort of ring of fire — for scientists, it allows them to see the corona, the sun's atmosphere, and there's a lot that they don't know about it, so it helps them to study it. One of the things they'll be doing will be tracking it across the entire country, so seeing over time what the actual atmosphere of the sun looks like.

Joe Mathieu: So we have the cool factor, we have the scientific factor. What will we actually be able to see here in the Boston area?

Arun Rath: Well in the Boston area, as I'm sure a lot of you probably know already, we will not be able to see the total solar eclipse, but we will still be able to experience a partial solar eclipse. The moon is still going to pass in front of part of the sun, and that's still pretty cool. It's an unusual, weird kind of spooky thing where the moon kind of takes a bite out of the sun. And if you are able to view it safely, you can kind of see the phases of the moon; you'll see, like, a crescent shape to the sun, which is really, really weird to look at.

Joe Mathieu: So it will be worth watching here, and Arun, we're hearing about how we do this safely. There's been a lot of talk about special glasses and so forth. What do we need to know before we look up in the sky?

Arun Rath: Well, you do not look at the sun directly unless you are wearing glasses that are designed specifically for this. There are eclipse glasses that you can get, and you can get them from the Museum of Science, you can get them through NOVA, but you want to make sure they are getting glasses that have been approved. There's actually been an issue lately, there have been apparently counterfeit glasses that are being sold because this event is huge. A lot of people want to be able to watch it. And Amazon has actually just been sending out a notice to some customers, myself included, to not use the glasses that they bought because they've not been able to verify that they were from a reliable source. You can damage your eyes if you look at the sun directly, so you definitely want to make sure you look through approved glasses.

Joe Mathieu: We're talking with WGBH radio correspondent Arun Rath, who is making his way into the path of totality. Where are you going to watch this from, Arun? 

Arun Rath: I'm on my way up to Oregon. The path of the totality, it's going to cut a swath across the U.S. from Oregon going all the way to South Carolina. I'm not quite sure what will be happening on that day. The authorities in Oregon aren't quite sure exactly how many people are going to be coming into this state, so I'm going to be heading into Portland and head towards the path. The idea that I have is to head as far inland as possible to have as good weather conditions as possible. We talked about the sun having an atmosphere. The earth also has an atmosphere, and there is a roll of the dice here because there could be clouds, and if there are clouds, we won't be able to see it. Things will get darker when the eclipse actually happens, but you won't be able to see that spectacular ring of fire if the clouds are in the sky. So we're just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, and hoping that once we're there, the farther inland we can get, the farther away from the ocean, that we might be able to get more of a clear sky.

Joe Mathieu: Arun, these are always a big deal because they're spread so far apart. When's the next eclipse?

Arun Rath: The next eclipse is in 2024, and the good news about that for us in the Greater Boston area is that that is actually going to be a lot more convenient. It's going to cut a path which is very different from this one. It's going to come up through Texas and cut across through New York, Vermont and Maine. So it's going to be an event where when that happens, all of us here in the Greater Boston area will be just within a few hours drive of the path of totality. And you know, again, weather permitting, that should be a really spectacular event and a chance for folks here to really experience this amazing phenomenon.

Joe Mathieu: That's pretty cool. Today, by the way, we expect the at least partial eclipse to peak around 2:47 p.m. Arun, I hope you have a great show, and thanks for being with us on WGBH's Morning Edition.

Arun Rath: Thanks so much.

Joe Mathieu: Arun Rath is a senior correspondent for WGBH News and also covers the neuroscience of learning.

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