While totality will mark the crowning moment of the August 21 solar eclipse, several other phenomena leading up to this much-anticipated climax will be worth experiencing. The entire sequence will be an enchanting, multisensory encounter with one of nature’s sublime spectacles.
At the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience in Madras, Oregon, the fun starts at 9:06:42 a.m., when the Moon takes its first bite out of the Sun in a moment called 1st contact; that signals the beginning of the eclipse. Using a filtered telescope, solar glasses, or other appropriate observing techniques, observers will be able to see more and more of the Sun covered during the approximately 73-minute transition from partial to total eclipse.
At about 10 a.m.—20 minutes before totality begins—the visible part of the Sun will have shriveled to almost a point (rather than a disc), resulting in sharper shadows. Soon, when about 85% of the Sun is covered, the sky will have darkened to the point that the planet Venus will be visible with the unaided eye, 34 degrees to the northwest of the Sun. At about 10:10 am, fainter Jupiter will be visible, a little more than 50 degrees southeast of the Sun.
Soon, the darkening sky will make those witnessing the eclipse feel like night is falling, though the darkest part of the sky will be toward the Sun, rather than at the distant horizon. Observers may notice that birds will stop singing and other daytime animals will cease activity, as if night has truly arrived. Just like at actual nightfall, this time of silence might then be followed by the sounds of crickets, cicadas, frogs, and other nocturnal critters. The temperature will also drop, perhaps up to 15 degrees or so.
At about 10:19:32 a.m.—two seconds before totality begins—the appearance of Bailey’s beads will quickly transition to the brief display of the diamond ring, and then totality begins, designated as 2nd contact. This will last until 10:21:36 (3 rd contact). During totality, the best view is with the unaided eye, looking at the totally eclipsed Sun and also at the so-called 360 degree sunset (all horizons will display sunset colors).
During the exciting buildup to totality, it’s easy to miss some of the features described above. Luckily, they will all be apparent, in opposite order, when totality ends and the Sun is again only partially eclipsed. Slowly, the Moon will move out of our line of sight with the Sun until 11:41:03 (4 th contact), when the eclipse ends.
By Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory Public Information Officer and Historian