By the University at Buffalo
Western New York will experience a partial solar eclipse on Saturday (Oct. 14), and University at Buffalo scientists say it’s a good opportunity to start preparing for the region’s once-in-a-century total solar eclipse in 2024.
Sambandamurthy Ganapathy, Ph.D., professor in the department of physics and associate dean for research in the College of Arts and Sciences, studies the physical properties of low-dimensional condensed matter systems. Tracy Gregg, Ph.D., professor and chair in the department of geology, studies volcanology throughout the solar system. They are both part of UB’s planning efforts for next year’s total eclipse, which will occur on April 8.
Here, they explain this Saturday’s partial eclipse, April’s total eclipse, and what to expect during both.
•Partial eclipse will be more ‘bite out of a pie’ than ‘ring of fire’
Much of the astronomical world is focused on the western and southwestern United States, which will experience an annular solar eclipse Saturday. This occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth when at or near its farthest point from Earth, making it appear as if a ring of fire is around the moon.
For Western New York and the rest of the country outside the path of annularity, the moon, the sun and the Earth won’t be perfectly aligned, and thus the moon will only partially cover the sun.
“It will look like somebody took a big bite out of a pie instead of a ring of fire,” Gregg said.
Still, the effects will be noticeable even for those with their sights set earthbound.
“As long as it's a clear day, you will notice that sunlight becomes odd. Shadows become less intense and blurrier and more diffuse,” Gregg said. “So even if you choose to ignore it, you will notice it.”
•Next up: Total eclipse
Don’t throw away your eclipse glasses after Saturday’s partial eclipse, Ganapathy and Gregg warn. Western New Yorkers will need them again on April 8 when the region experiences its first total solar eclipse since 1925.
Total solar eclipses occur when the moon completely blocks the sun. Those lucky enough to view it are those located in the center of the moon’s shadow, or the path of totality. They may even be able to see the sun’s typically unviewable outer atmosphere, or corona.
A total eclipse is the only type of solar eclipse where viewers can momentarily remove their eclipse glasses. It’s safe to look directly at the eclipse for the few minutes when the moon completely blocks the sun.
Still, Ganapathy warns to always take caution when viewing a solar eclipse.
“Going from a completely dark room to suddenly walking into a brightly lit room, our eyes take some time to adjust,” he said. “So, you can imagine what looking at complete darkness and then suddenly pure bright sunlight would do to our eyes. Our eyes are not susceptible to making changes that fast and that can harm our vision.”
There will be dramatic changes on the ground as well, Ganapathy added. Day will appear to turn into night. Temperatures will drop. Birds and insects will react wildly to the sudden change.
“You would never experience anything like this anywhere else except being in the path of a total solar eclipse,” Ganapathy said.
•Two eclipses so close together a ‘completely predictable’ coincidence
For those looking to the skies to make predictions about the future, Gregg reassured that Western New York experiencing a partial eclipse and total eclipse within roughly six months of each other is “not a sign of the end times.”
“It seems like magic. It's really just physics,” she said. “It is uncommon, obviously, for us to be able to see two eclipses in such a short time frame. In that sense, it's a coincidence, but it's also completely predictable and mathematically expected based on orbital dynamics.”
“So, we're just really lucky that we're alive at this time when we've got these two eclipses happening in the same region so close to each other,” she added.
Some parts of the country will experience an even more rare occurrence: Southern Texas will be in the path of both the annular eclipse and total eclipse. Just how uncommon is that? The last annular eclipse there was 83 years ago, and the last total eclipse there was 627 years ago. Now, this region will experience both within the same calendar year.
•What can eclipses tell scientists?
Solar and lunar eclipses helped scientists determine the size of the moon, the distances between planets and even that Earth is a sphere.
Today, they also provide an opportunity to measure and observe how plants and animals react to a sudden change in solar radiation and atmospheric temperature.
“Especially now that we're dealing with climate change, being able to see how biology reacts in a condensed time frame is really important information,” Gregg said.
•Total eclipse watch party in the works for campus community
UB students, faculty and staff may have an opportunity to view the total eclipse together.
An April 8 eclipse watch party for the campus community is currently in the planning stages. Multiple departments, including the office of university events, the CAS events team, the student association, university police, parking and transportation services, as well as the university’s scientific experts, are coordinating.
“The conversations are ongoing, and more details can be expected by January,” Ganapathy said.