The University of Virginia’s College at Wise did not exist the last time the United States experienced a total eclipse. In fact, the land that is now the UVa-Wise campus was the Wise County Poor Farm on June 8, 1918 when Wise saw 80 percent of the sun covered by the moon.
Most UVa-Wise students will be on campus during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. Physics professors Jan Fiala and Lucian Undreiu have some tips on where and how to view the partial eclipse from campus. They also offer some basic lessons about eclipses.
“A total eclipse occurs when the dark silhouette of the moon completely obscures the intensely bright light of the sun, allowing the much fainter solar corona to be visible,” Fiala explained.
During an eclipse, totality occurs in a narrow track of the Earth’s surface.
Fiala did some research and found that the last total solar eclipse in the US was in 1918. About 80 percent of the sun was covered in Wise during the June 8, 1918 eclipse at 7:32:02 p.m.
Wise will experience a slightly more than 95 percent eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. So where is the best place to view the eclipse on campus?
“Any place on campus with a good view of the sky will do it,” Fiala said. “The partial eclipse will start at 1:07 p.m. and will finish at 3:59 p.m. with maximum eclipse of 95 percent at 2:35:37 p.m. To look at the sun, you must look for eclipse glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for such products.”
“Do not, at any time, look directly at the sun,” Undreiu said. “You might be tempted but even a partially eclipsed sun can cause permanent eye damage. Be the smart on here. Don’t stack multiple pairs of sunglasses on your head and think you’re good.”
Fiala has seen a 99 percent total solar eclipse in Europe on Aug. 11, 1999. Even the 1 percent of the sun that is not eclipsed by the moon is not the same as experiencing the totality of an eclipse, he said.
“I have seen a 99 percent total solar eclipse and have to say that what is described by people seeing 100 percent is quite far from what I have seen,” he said.
Fiala said the more he learns and reads about a total eclipse experience makes him want to be in the right place at the right time on Aug. 21.
“To see the total eclipse, one needs to drive about 107 miles southwest from Wise,” Fiala said. “It seems to me that the direction toward Knoxville is the best.”
Undreiu is part of NASA’s subject matter experts initiative, and he will observe the eclipse in a region that is southwest of Asheville.
Fiala said many ask how the smaller moon can cover the sun.
“The sun is roughly 400 times the size of the moon, but the moon is 400 times closer to the Earth,” he explains. “So they appear about the same size in the sky.”
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