NEBRASKAland Aug/Sept 2017

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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44 NEBRASKAland • AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2017 O n Monday, Aug. 21, throngs of people across Nebraska – and the United States – will be treated to a sight that, for many people, seems to defy description. Hotels and campgrounds across the state have been booked solid for months by travelers from across the globe hungering for the sight. What is it? A total solar eclipse, the first on American soil since 1991, and the first to sweep across the entire country since 1918. To learn more about the eclipse, I visited with Dr. Rebecca Harbison, a professor of practice of astronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to learn more about this once-in-a-lifetime event. The information she provided excited me even more. What is a total solar eclipse? An eclipse happens when you have the sun, the moon and the Earth all lined up. And a solar eclipse occurs when the moon is between the Earth and the sun. So from the Earth's point of view – or at least for some part of the Earth – the moon is blocking the sun. Or you could think of it as, the moon's shadow is falling on the Earth. How rare is a solar eclipse? You might think solar eclipses should happen every month, since the moon orbits the Earth. But they don't because the moon's orbit is slightly tilted compared to the Earth's orbit around the sun. Most months, the moon passes above or below the sun in the sky. Only about twice a year do we get a solar eclipse. In addition, the moon's shadow on the Earth is really small – at least the dark part of the shadow, the umbra, the place where the moon covers the whole sun and not just part of it. It's only about 50 miles across, more or less. So even though we have maybe two solar eclipses a year, most of the Earth that sees the eclipse will only see the partial eclipse. Only a small patch of Earth will be in the line of totality. What's special about this particular eclipse? One reason we make such a fuss about this eclipse is that the line of totality is crossing the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. Because the Earth is mostly covered in ocean, sometimes a total eclipse can be really hard just to get to. Historically, eclipses have caused great panic, viewed as omens of death and destruction from the gods. By Renae Blum Total Eclipse of the Sun ILLUSTRATION BY C. N. GOCHIN PHOTO BY STEPHEN MUDGE

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