Skywatchers from Oregon to South Carolina are feverishly preparing for the first total eclipse to overshadow the continental United States since 1979. While Joplin sits just outside the main path of the eclipse, residents will still get a show.
On Aug. 21, the third day of the new school year, the moon will almost completely blot out the sun in the Joplin skies. People will look up.
Teachers and public organizations in Joplin are beginning to make plans to ensure that local residents will be just as safe and knowledgeable as those living nearer to the eclipse’s path. Preparations are well underway at libraries, parks and schools elsewhere in the state, some of which have begun to distribute the special glasses required to safely look at the eclipse.
“As we get closer to (the date), we need to do something,” Patrick Tuttle, chair of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “It’s a really significant time.”
That eclipses happen at all is a cosmic coincidence. The sun is 400 times wider than the moon, which is 400 times closer to earth than the sun. Viewed from earth, the small star and the large hunk of rock appear to be approximately the same size. When the moon’s orbit takes it directly in front of the sun, it casts a huge shadow with a spot of total darkness at the center.
“From what I understand, it’s an awesome view,” said Rebecca Baker, a senior instructor at Missouri State University who is organizing an eclipse viewing at the university stadium.
The darkest part of the shadow will whisk diagonally across mid-Missouri at roughly 1,600 mph, giving residents of Columbia, the state’s fifth-largest city, more than two minutes in a natural twilight zone. Day will turn to night, and the sun’s atmosphere will become visible as a flaming corona, a once-in-a-lifetime sight for most people. Skywatchers will be able to make out planets orbiting the sun. The stars will briefly shine. Birds will stir in the false twilight, and the temperature will fall, perhaps kicking up a wind, Baker said.
One hundred and twenty-five miles away from the so-called path of totality, area residents won’t get quite the same experience. But it won’t be just another day.
At 11:42 a.m. (and 6.3 seconds), the moon will begin to slide in front of the sun, obscuring more and more of the yellow disc until, two hours later, it is 93 percent blotted out. The sky will change color, and temperatures will likely drop.
A month before the eclipse, Prairie State Park in Mindenmines will offer a class on the eclipse. Participants will learn what to look for, where to best see the eclipse, and how to watch it safety.
So far, no such events are scheduled in nature centers, libraries or parks in Joplin, though staff members say events are being planned. Missouri Southern State University and Pittsburg State University have not yet scheduled events to coincide with the eclipse, which is being touted as the Great American Eclipse because it will only be visible in North America.
In Springfield, which will see 96 percent of the sun obscured, skywatchers will gather at the Missouri State University stadium, where Baker is helping to organize educational events. People will stream into the stadium, and the eclipse itself will be displayed on the stadium’s enormous video screens.
Baker plans to have 10,000 pairs of eclipse glasses on hand for the event, to be distributed free to all comers.
Eclipses are both beautiful and dangerous. The sun fires off radiation that is harmful to the naked eye, and can seriously damage the retina. Under normal circumstances, looking at the sun is painful. Not so during an eclipse, making it easier for observers to unwittingly get hurt.
Baker said there are numerous workarounds that allow people to safely watch an eclipse, including handmade pinhole cameras, watching the shadow of the sun on the ground, and using glasses to block the harmful rays.
Eclipse glasses designed specifically to allow users to look directly at the sun are widely available online from retailers such as Rainbow Symphony and American Paper Optics. Normal sunglasses will not do the trick.
Tuttle says eclipse glasses are not yet available in Joplin to purchase from retailers or public organizations.
David McKee, assistant professor of physical science at MSSU, plans to travel to see the total eclipse.
He said area residents can get an indirect view of the eclipse using binoculars or a cheap telescope, though he cautioned heavily against looking through them at the sun.
“Place a white card or screen below the viewing end,” he wrote in an email. “Then adjust the distance between the eyepiece and the card and/or the focus until a sharp image forms.”
To see an animated version of the upcoming eclipse in Joplin, or for more information about this cosmic coincidence, visit eclipsemega.movie.
Prairie State Park, 128 NW 150th Lane in Mindenmines, will hold an educational eclipse event from 2 to 3 p.m. on July 15. Details: 417-843-6711.