Here's What Will Happen During the Total Solar Eclipse

The NASA subject matter expert discusses what totality means.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - By now you've heard a lot about this total solar eclipse.

People use terms like "once in a lifetime" to describe it. But why is it such a big deal? Why is being in "totality" such a unique experience?

"The difference is that for us, here in Columbia, we're going to see the sun completely covered by the moon," News19's Jim Gandy says. 

Full Coverage of the Eclipse - Everything You Need to Know

The path of totality is just 70 miles wide, but luckily, that narrow band will cover almost all of the Midlands. (Parts of Lee and Kershaw Counties will be in 99 percent totality, not 100 percent.)

And event that little tiny percentage, as it turns out, is a big deal. While rest of the country that's not in the path will see a good show, they won't get the spectacle that we'll see here.

First, you'll need to have your NASA or American Astronomical Society approved solar eclipse glasses on when if you're going to look at the sun. And don't try to look through a camera or binoculars--that could be worse.

LINK: How to Know If Your Eclipse Glasses are Safe

In the Midlands, the partial eclipse begins between 1:10 and 1:15 p.m, depending on what town you're in.

The Diamond Ring

As we get close to totality (between 2:39-2:45 p.m.) here's what will happen: you'll see what's known as the "diamond ring," a flash of light concentrated on one side. 

It quite literally kind of longs like the diamond on an engagement ring. 

"Keep in mind, the moon is moving at 2,200 miles an hour, so [this period] doesn't last very long," Gandy says.

Bailey's Beads

You'll next see a phenomenon known as "Bailey's beads," where little beads of light will form around the sun. 

Even here,  you can damage your eyes, so don't take off the glasses. When it goes dark, you'll know it's time for the next step. 

"It's just as this disappears that it's safe to take off our glasses," Gandy says.

Totality Itself

And it's at that moment that you'll be able to see something that most human beings never do. The sun, as you may have learned in science class, has a corona, an aura of plasma that extends millions of miles out into space. But here on Earth, we can never see the corona because the suns rays are too powerful and bright for it to be visible by our eyes. Only specialized telescopes and cameras can. Human eyes are just to sensitive to the sun's blinding rays. 

But for this short period of time, when we're at 100 percent totality, you can see this glow around the sun with the naked eye. It's literally a way of experiencing the sun that is impossible at any point on the Earth, and at any other time. Most of the people in the world will go their entire lives without seeing it. In short, consider yourself lucky when you do see it: you got a unique perspective on viewing the reality here on our planet.

"There is nothing like totality," Gandy says. "That's why so many people are going to be traveling to South Carolina to view this eclipse, and they're going to be coming from far away to do it."

Now, while you can enjoy it, just remember your safety. As soon as you start to see light, look away or put those glasses back on. 

"Just like if you're outside and you accidentally glance at the sun, you turn away very quickly," Gandy says. "And that's what you would do as we end totality."

It won't be pitch black, but it'll get dark--dark enough that the brightest stars will come out. In fact, there are two planets that will be easily visible at the eclipse.

"And here's what's going to be kind of neat," Gandy says. "Normally you have to wait until the sun goes down to go down to see these planets. But now you're going to see the sun come down."

And you're going to see two of the planets off to the sides of the sun. Venus will be the brightest one, and the other's going is Jupiter. Venus, he says, might actually be visible a half-hour before totality.

And it won't just be the sky. There will also be things changing in the environment.

"Animals go into their nocturnal behavior," Gandy says. "The birds will stop flying. They'll stop singing. It'll be just like evening."

The temperature also will drop. The average is 10 degrees, and Gandy says he's expecting a drop of 5 to 8 degrees.

"The biggest drop ever was in 1834 in Pennsylvania in December," Gandy points out. "The temperature dropped from 78 to 50 degrees."

But nothing that dramatic here. Well, except for when you look at the sky. 

Don't forget! WLTX and the SC State Fair are hosting a total eclipse tailgate! For more details, go to the WLTX Total Eclipse Tailgate.

© 2017 WLTX-TV


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