What To Look For During the Eclipse


August 21, 2017

The day of the total eclipse is finally here. Hopefully, you have your special eclipse glasses, clear skies and time to see this celestial phenomenon as it moves across the United States. But do you know what to look for during the solar eclipse? RFD-TV met with a NASA scientist on Sunday for some last-minute insights.

Wearing a shirt emblazoned with a NASA patch, Dr. James Spann could pass for one of the eclipse-chasing tourists who’ve descended on Nashville. And in a way, he is. Spann, the Chief Scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, is in Tennessee for a three-day program hosted at Nashville’s Adventure Science Center and his excitement is palpable. “The eclipse is just awesome,” he says, before describing some of the moments to look for during the solar event.

“The eclipse is really about a 2-3 hour long event,” Spann explains. “It begins right when the Moon first begins to cover up the sun, so that’s ‘first contact.’ And as it covers up the sun more and more, then you come into ‘total eclipse.’ During the total eclipse is the only time, and let me repeat, the only time you can actually look without your eclipse glasses. What you look for there, will be little red flares coming off the sun. You can see it around the edge. And then, if you look at little off the disc, you’ll see the wispy, white corona. It’s a lot fainter, but you can still see that. Just as it goes into eclipse there will be something called the Diamond Ring, which is the last chance the sun has before it’s totally blocked out. It actually looks like a ring with a big, shiny diamond.

Check out NASA’s photos from past solar eclipses.

“Then what happens, you are going to see these little beads going around. Those are called Baily’s Beads. That’s the sun peeking through valleys and mountains that are on the moon, so you get to see bright little spots all along the edge. Then it will just reverse. You’ll see another Diamond Ring on the exit and then go on out.”

Watch NASA’s a live stream of the total solar eclipse.

You may notice changes beyond what you can see through your special safety glasses. During the totality portion, try and pay attention to your other senses.

“The temperature will drop about 10 degrees. It’s very, very obvious. It’s like coming in from outside into air-conditioning. You’ll feel the temperature change. Little animals and insects will behave like they do when it’s nighttime. Birds will start chirping, and bugs will start making their noises. Little furry animals will start scurrying around because they think they will be going to sleep. Cloud formation is a little different also. Because suddenly, in the middle of the day it gets really cool in the atmospheres so sometimes the clouds behave a little differently. There’s just a lot of things.”

That probably seems like a lot for the average eclipse viewer to observe. But a total solar eclipse actually gives scientists the perfect opportunity to study our atmosphere, our Moon, and our sun.

“One would think with all the spacecraft out there and giant telescopes on the ground, that we’ve studied everything we can about the sun,” says Spann. “The best way to study it right near the surface is with these total eclipses just because the size of the moon is a perfectly matching disc of the sun.”

Today’s total eclipse is the first in the U.S. since 1979, but despite all the hype, total solar eclipses aren’t that rare. They occur somewhere on the planet every 18 months -- often over the ocean. Luckily, the U.S. won’t have to wait as long for the next total eclipse which is scheduled to appear April 8, 2024 and will travel from Texas to Maine.