A total solar eclipse passed over the United States on Monday, August 21, 2017. Crowds from all over America packed into areas in the path of totality, which stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. As Pennsylvania did not fall into that range, anyone viewing from home would have seen only a partial eclipse. Here in Lower Merion, the moon obscured about 75% of the area of the sun at 2:44 pm, the height of the eclipse. Lauryn Holgado ’20 describes her experience “witness[ing] the solar eclipse with my sister. We used water in a basin to see the eclipse.” Many people used different strategies to view the eclipse, including through eclipse glasses, a pinhole projector, or like Holgado, in the reflection of water.
A solar eclipse is caused by a particular alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. It occurs when the moon’s orbit brings it between the Earth and the Sun. This blocks the light of the sun, effectively casting a shadow upon the Earth. Vivian Chen ’20 comments, “I was able to look at the reflection of the solar eclipse. It was fascinating that the moon could cover the sun and produce such a wonderful natural phenomenon.” Although the moon completely covers the sun during a total eclipse, it can be dangerous to look directly at the eclipse without proper eye protection. It is safe to look at the eclipse directly during the few minutes when the sun is completely obscured by the moon, but during any other time, it is just like looking straight at the sun on a normal day. This can cause damage to the retina, resulting in permanent harm to vision and even blindness. For this reason, such varied viewing devices are necessary during a solar eclipse.
Though solar eclipses may not happen everyday, they are not as rare as many sources make them out to be. The next solar eclipse, although it will be a partial one seen only in South America and Antarctica, will occur on February 15, 2018, and the next total eclipse will be on July 2, 2019 over South America. However, the next total solar eclipse that will pass over the United States will occur on April 8, 2024, and totality will be visible from Erie, Pennsylvania. The next solar eclipse that the LM area will be able to view in totality will occur on May 1, 2079. Sophie Yang ’20 remarked that she “can’t wait for another opportunity to see a solar eclipse!”