Panda Thoughts: Eclipse Edition / by Nathalie Ouellette

 Image credit:  George Lu  / CC BY | NASA.

Image credit: George Lu / CC BY | NASA.

 Wow now that sure is... a car! Let me tell you! (I don't know anything about cars.) Image credit:  Drive2.com .

Wow now that sure is... a car! Let me tell you! (I don't know anything about cars.) Image credit: Drive2.com.

Hello everyone! The first thought I'd like to share with you is "wow, Mitsubishi made a car named the Eclipse Panda??". I'm not totally sure if the model of the car was "Eclipse" and they made some black and white version they called "Panda" because of the colouring or what, I'll admit my knowledge of cars is severely lacking. But it was still a cool thing to learn while Googling "panda eclipse" for pictures to insert in this post!

The 2017 solar eclipse is quickly approaching, and I'm sure most of you are at the very least aware and more likely very excited!!! My earliest memory of a solar eclipse was the May 10th annular solar eclipse that passed over nearly all of North America. I was in 1st grade and clearly remember building a little pinhole camera in class in preparation. Even then, 6 year old Nathalie knew she was witnessing a momentous occasion. To think that right there, before her very eyes, she could see proof of the motion and alignment of celestial objects much too large and distant for her to comprehend... I mean how amazing and simply awe-inspiring is that?? The answer is "very".

The 1994 eclipse was what we call an 'annular' eclipse, meaning that the geometry of the Earth-Moon-Sun alignment wasn't quite right for the Moon to fully cover the Sun during the eclipse. Instead of full coverage, you end up with a ring of fire still visible around the Moon. The precise geometry involved in solar eclipses is actually quite astounding, The diameter of the Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun's. Buuuutttttt, amazingly, the Moon is also 400 times closer to Earth than the Sun! This means that the Sun and Moon look pretty much the same size in our sky! When they are perfectly aligned, BINGO! DINO DNA! I mean, SOLAR ECLIPSE!

What determines when we have an eclipse? NASA Goddard explains!

But wait a second, what's going on, the Moon completes one full orbit around the Earth about every 28 dang days, why aren't we seeing solar eclipses all the hecking time?? Also what's this deal with sometimes eclipses being annular, or even partial (when the Moon crosses the Sun higher or lower than at centre, and so never fully covers it). What's going on, Nathalie?! Well, you see, the orbit of the Moon is not a perfect circle nor is the angle of the orbit perfectly aligned with a line drawn from the Earth to the Sun.  The Moon is sometimes a little farther away from Earth along its orbit, meaning it appears smaller in the sky and can't cover the entire disc of the Sun. And sometimes, the height of the Moon along its orbit means its path doesn't cross exactly along the Sun's centre, so it swings over a little too high or too low. Everything needs to be just right for a total solar eclipse to occur, and lo and behold AUGUST 21st 2017's GOT IT ALL!

 Tyler Nordren has made a suite of beautiful posters, including this Mizzou one, celebrating the 2017 solar eclipse across America! Get yours  here !

Tyler Nordren has made a suite of beautiful posters, including this Mizzou one, celebrating the 2017 solar eclipse across America! Get yours here!

This is why my husband and I will be packing our bags and driving down 16 hours to Columbia, Missouri in the hopes of witnessing 2min37s of sweet sweet totality! During a pre-interview with CBC News (and with this xkcd comic in mind), I was asked what this eclipse means to science and scientists. And sure, there's lots we can see about how the 1919 total solar eclipse allowed Sir Arthur Eddington to perform the first experimental test of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Or we could talk about how the Sun's corona usually gets totally lost in the glare of how bright the Sun's disc is, but having the Moon act like a coronograph means we can see all the magical and mystical wonders of the corona! But in the end, to me, it's about validating the years I've spent on a computer, solving equations, writing code, reading books on celestial objects. It's about reconnecting with my pure love of space, and remembering the wonders every one of us can witness with our own eyes. For that 2min37s, I hope to be that child again.

If you're still on the fence about whether you should try to see the total eclipse, read a little bit about how otherworldly the experience has been for people who have experienced it before! That totally convinced me, personally. Once the eclipse is over, I'll write a post-mortem about my experience. And I'm already getting excited about the April 8th 2024 eclipse that will be crossing the eastern side of North America! Good to know there's a backup in seven years, but seven years is a long time nowadays so I'm happy to take my chance on Missouri this year. I wish you good luck and clear skies! Don't stare directly at the Sun (except if you have good eclipse glasses, or are in the throes of totality), and stay frosty!