Idaho will have a rare spot in the international limelight this summer when it becomes the place to go to view a total solar eclipse.
While the “path of totality” passes through several states, Idaho is projected to be one of the best viewing spots due to weather, said Dr. Brian Jackson, assistant professor of physics at Boise State University, who is holding informational meetings around the state to let people know about the upcoming event on August 21. The eclipse will start a little after 10 a.m. and reach “totality” at around 11:30 a.m., depending on one’s specific location.
“In a lot of states, particularly as you go east, there’s a good chance they won’t have clear skies,” he said, such as his home state of Georgia. “The odds that we’re going to have a big bank of clouds roll in is basically zero.”
An eclipse is caused by an odd coincidence. In the sky, the sun and the moon appear the same size. Though the sun is a lot bigger, it’s also further away. Every few years, the new moon passes in front of the sun and blocks out the disk of the sun. This darkens the sky and lowers the temperature for a few minutes. “Animals mistake this for nightfall,” Jackson said. “Cows go to their barns, birds go to their nests.”
If the moon blocks only some of the sun, it’s a partial eclipse, but if the moon blocks all of the sun, it’s a total eclipse, Jackson explained. In the latter case, one can see the sun’s chromosphere—a reddish layer of its atmosphere—as well as the corona, comprising pearly streams and plumes of ionized gases that create the appearance of a massive crown surrounding the sun.
The last total eclipse in Idaho was in 1979. “They’re not that rare, but they usually fall somewhere in the ocean or uninhabited terrain, not through such a densely populated area,” he said.
Where to see it?
“Everybody in the state of Idaho will see an eclipse—it’s just a question of partial or total,” Jackson emphasized. In Boise, for example, the eclipse will be 99.6 percent total. “It will be noticeably dark.” The path of totality goes north of Boise, from Weiser through Idaho Falls.
If you have your heart set on seeing a total eclipse, and don’t already have a hotel room or campsite, you might be out of luck—everything is booked. Jackson suggested couch surfing with friends or relatives. “Make plans ahead of time,” he warned. “Not that morning, or odds are you’re not going to find a place to stop.”
Otherwise, you can wait for seven years for the next eclipse to go through the U.S., or until 2169, the next time one is slated to go through Idaho.
If you’d like to be able to see when the eclipse is over, it’s important to follow safety standards. Your mom was right: if you stare at the sun, you can go blind. Even if the sun is half blocked by the moon.
“At the moment of totality, the moon will cover the sun, and you can look for that very short period,” said Dr. Brian Jackson, assistant professor in physics at Boise State University. “But on either side of that two-minute window, it’s dangerous to look at the sun.”
There are several ways to indirectly look at an eclipse, such as through pinhole cameras. Some welding glasses are dark enough for a direct peek, but ones that aren’t can be more dangerous because you won’t notice the damage, Jackson said.
Easiest and cheapest are cardboard-frame, certified “eclipse glasses,” available online for about $4. They protect your eyes so you can safely stare at the eclipse to your heart’s content. Jackson will also be handing them out at events.
BSU is running a crowd-funding campaign at http://ponyup.boisestate.edu/idahoeclipse. A $10 donation makes available five pairs of glasses to be used at various outreach programs throughout the state. While the campaign was scheduled to end this spring, Jackson said it could run all summer.