Feature Story | 3-Apr-2024

What you need to know about the total solar eclipse

In UTA Q&A, astronomy professor explains what happens during a total solar eclipse

University of Texas at Arlington

On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse will be visible across North America, starting in Mexico and passing through the United States and Canada. The University of Texas at Arlington is in the path of totality, meaning Mavericks on campus will witness a total solar eclipse for four minutes.

In this question-and-answer interview, Nilakshi Veerabathina, professor of instruction in physics, explains the basics of eclipses that she teaches her astronomy students.

What is a total solar eclipse?

During a solar eclipse, the moon passes directly between the sun and the Earth. When the moon completely blocks the sun, it’s called a total solar eclipse. When the moon only blocks part of the sun, it’s called a partial solar eclipse.

What is happening on April 8?

On April 8, parts of the U.S., Mexico and Canada will see a total solar eclipse. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is the largest metro area in the path of the totality (meaning, the areas that will see the full solar eclipse). On campus in Arlington, the partial eclipse will start at 12:22 p.m. and end at 3:02 p.m., with the totality lasting from 1:40 p.m. to nearly 1:44 p.m. NASA has detailed maps that show who will get the full or partial eclipse and for how long.

Where will you be watching the eclipse?

I will be watching the eclipse from the UTA Planetarium viewing location. This is one of the prime spots on the UTA campus, where filtered telescopes will be set up and livestreaming will be available. The event is expected to draw media attention and a large crowd, making it a fun place to observe this rare event together as a community.

Are solar eclipses rare?

Total solar eclipses are not rare. One happens every 18 months or so. However, since most of Earth is covered by water, what is rare is humans being able to see the event since normally the path of totality happens in unpopulated areas.

When will the next one come to the U.S.?

The next time the U.S. will see a solar eclipse is on Aug. 23, 2044, when the path will include the U.S., Canada and Greenland. The only states to see the totality then will be Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

What happens if it’s cloudy on Monday?

Even if it’s cloudy, the eclipse is still going to happen (and don’t trust the weather forecasts because those are always changing, especially in Texas). While it may not be the dramatic change from bright sunshine to total darkness, it will still noticeably go from lighter to darker, like when a big thunderstorm rolls in. The atmospheric changes during an eclipse will also happen; the temperature will noticeably become cooler, and the animals will start to react like it’s sunset. Cloud cover may also lead to some interesting colors from the sun during the eclipse. Cloudy or not, this will still be remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime event.

Why do I need special eclipse glasses?

Everyone in the U.S. will see at least a partial solar eclipse. However, only those within the 115-mile path of the totality will see the sun’s face be completely blocked by the moon’s shadow for about four minutes.

It is only safe to look at the sun with the naked eye during the few minutes of the totality. For the rest of the time, individuals must use special eclipse glasses. The sun emits potentially harmful ultraviolent and infrared radiation that can cause serious eye damage and, potentially, blindness to individuals who stare directly at it. That’s why to safely view the eclipse, humans must wear special sunglasses. You can’t wear regular sunglasses; they’re not nearly strong enough. Instead, you need eclipse glasses made for this type of event with filters that are at least 1,000 times darker than regular sunglasses.

Where can I go to watch the eclipse?

UT Arlington is also planning a weeklong Solar-Bration that includes special exhibits, concerts and lectures. On April 8, public activities start at 9 a.m., with the outdoor watch party beginning at 11 a.m. at various locations on campus.

Will traffic really be that bad?

Expect traffic to be heavy or slow throughout the DFW area on the day of the eclipse. Millions of people from neighboring states and cities will likely flock to the DFW area, the largest metroplex under the path of totality. In 2017, I went to Tennessee to watch the totality with my friends, and we were stuck in traffic for hours on the return journey. I recommend that individuals decide ahead of time where they want to watch the eclipse, arrive early and plan to stay late.

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