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The Call-In: The Solar Eclipse

Aug 13, 2017
Originally published on August 13, 2017 6:09 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Now it's time for The Call-In.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Unless you've been living on another planet, you know that later this month, a solar eclipse will be visible across most of this country. And in some parts - and it's awesomely called the path of totality - lots of people will be able to witness a total solar eclipse.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I was calling in regard to the total solar eclipse.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Of course, we all want to know when, where, why, how.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're going to have moon pies and some moonshine.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: It's going to be awesome.

ANN MARIE SULLIVAN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.

KEN OLINSKY: See you there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce came by to answer some of your questions. And she started by explaining why there's been so much fuss.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Somewhere on Earth, about every 18 months on average, you can see a total solar eclipse. So on the one hand, they're, you know, happening all the time. On the other hand, it's unusual for any one spot on the Earth to get to see it. It doesn't happen for that spot on the Earth very often. And so it's actually been something like 99 years since the United States has had an eclipse that you can see all the way from coast to coast. And so, you know, for a lot of people, this is like their big chance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, I am, of course, pretty psyched about the eclipse, as is everyone. But is it going to be meaningful for scientists? Is there something they're hoping to learn from watching it?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Right. So I talked to one scientist who told me people are always asking him, like, can you actually learn anything by watching eclipses? I mean, people have been studying them scientifically for hundreds of years now. Like, what is there left to learn? Well, there actually is something.

It's interesting because when the moon slides in front of the sun, what is revealed is the sort of outer atmosphere of the sun. It looks like a sort of glowing ring around the sun. And the inner portions of that are actually very difficult for scientists to see at any other time. That area - there's a lot of activity that happens there that they think is related to the so-called space weather that can affect our communications systems, our electric grids. And so they're really excited because an eclipse really is, like, a rare opportunity to see this region of the sun that they normally can't see with their instruments.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fascinating. All right, we're going to get to something a little bit more down to earth and practical, which is, of course, safety. We got a lot of questions about this. Let's listen to one.

SULLIVAN: Hi. This is Ann Marie Sullivan (ph). I'm calling from Bergen, N.J. My concern is, does it truly affect your eyesight? Can one go blind from seeing the solar eclipse? If so, why, and what causes it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Nell.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: All right, this is no joke. OK? If any region of the sun is not completely covered by the moon - if you have any kind of partial eclipse, even if it's just, like, 1 percent of the sun, you should not look at it because that little tiny crescent sun is just as bright as the ordinary sun on an ordinary day, and it will damage your vision. OK? Don't even try to sneak peeks. The little sneak peeks add up.

And what happens is if there's too much exposure to the light-sensitive cells in the back of your eye, it sets off a kind of chemical reaction that can damage and even kill the cells. And you won't feel it, and you won't even notice it for hours and hours because the way it kills the cells, they continue functioning for a while. So what typically happens if somebody has been unsafe and has been looking at a partial eclipse without any protection is they go to bed that night thinking everything is fine. And then they wake up in the morning, and they realize they can't see. Now, can it be fixed? You know, in months to a year, sometimes that does go away. But sometimes it's permanent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned protective eyewear. Kyra Stoddard (ph) of Phoenix, Ariz., wrote to ask about that. There are a lot of people out there hawking protective lenses, and she wanted to know how to make sure that she was buying eclipse glasses for her and her family that are actually safe. How do you tell?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's right. Yeah, so that's difficult. If you go to NASA's website or the website of the American Astronomical Society, they have lists of reputable vendors whose products are known to conform to the international standards. And the way you can be surest that you're getting the real deal is to go to one of those vendors because you can't just look for some sort of symbol or some sort of, like, you know, name or something because somebody could counterfeit that. Right? They could just print that on their glasses and sell it to people. So you really want to know who you're buying from. And you want some sort of independent assessment that they're OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of people are making plans, of course, to travel to places where they can get the best view of the event. Here's Rebecca Borowski (ph) of Bloomington, Ind.

REBECCA BOROWSKI: My question about the eclipse is what it will look like in the path of totality if it's cloudy that day. We live about 4 hours away from the path of totality. And I'm thinking about bringing my 5-year-old daughter that day. And I want to know, if I wake up that morning and it's cloudy, should we still go?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Boy, that's a tough question. You know, clouds are the real bummer when it comes to eclipses and eclipse-chasing. I can't advise people on what they should do. But I can tell you where I'm going, in Clemson, S.C., there's, like, a 25 percent chance of, historically, that it's cloudy. And I'm still going to make huge efforts to go there just in case.

I mean, even if it's a cloudy day or partially cloudy day, it could break up enough for you to see the eclipse. And even if you go somewhere where you think that it's going to have decent weather, clouds could still roll in kind of at the last minute. So I mean, it's a personal decision. But if you're asking me, like, if the sky is totally covered with clouds, am I going to be able to see this, like, phenomenal celestial wonder? The answer is no, you're going to see all bunch of clouds.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But those are cool, too. Let's not, you know, dismiss clouds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's not dismiss clouds. Clouds are good. And you'll be with other people. It's not just about the event itself. It's about community.

(Clearing throat) All right. And I have a question that's personal to me. I'm going to be in Maine. Will I see anything at all (laughter)?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: I think every part of the U.S. sees at least a partial eclipse. But way up there in Maine, it's going to be pretty partial.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bad planning on my part, bad planning.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: You could bring some glasses, and you could have a look. But it's not going to be life-changing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR's science correspondent, ruining my hopes and dreams for my eclipse day - thanks so much for taking the time.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: You're very welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many communities will be inundated by people trying to see the full eclipse. One of those places is Prairie City in eastern Oregon. We called up someone in that town. Ken Gronwald owns a local shop called Grumpy's Graphics.

KEN GRONWALD: Well, there's about 900 people. If you walk down Main Street, it's only about a block and a half long - a couple restaurants, a couple bars, one grocery store, one dentist, one hotel and that's about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how are people feeling in the town? Are they excited?

GRONWALD: They're scared.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Scared?

GRONWALD: They've never been - yeah, they've never seen big events. And they're worried about, you know, running out of water, running out food and gridlock. All that's going to happen here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You own a graphics shop. You've been selling souvenirs. Can you describe some of them?

GRONWALD: Yeah. Our souvenirs are generally T-shirts, hats. We went out and got some pins made, coffee cups, you know, the usual stuff you see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do the T-shirts say?

GRONWALD: Welcome to the dark side of the moon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

GRONWALD: One says, I got mooned. Another one says I've been to where the sun doesn't shine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) How'd you come up with those? Those are pretty good.

GRONWALD: Well, where I come up where the sun don't shine - come from the minister's wife.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really? Is that true?

GRONWALD: Really, that's true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

GRONWALD: She says, don't tell anybody. I put a little pair of initials on the bottom of it so that everybody knew.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter). All right, Ken Grumpy Gronwald of Grumpy's Graphics in Prairie City, Ore., thank you so much. And enjoy the eclipse, if you can.

GRONWALD: All right. Thank you for calling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many of you shared your plans for the next week with us. And here are some of them.

RACHEL BOWMAN: My boyfriend, Peter, and I are going to be traveling from the Florida Keys, where we live, up to Tennessee to see the eclipse. I am super excited.

GISELE SCHOENE: I'll be home in my backyard with my chickens. I am curious to see if they will be fooled and think it's night and go inside their coop.

OLINSKY: Pulled the kids from school and developed an off-road path to take to our nearest astronomy center. We'll be pulling our little red wagon filled with chairs and everything we need. And we'll see you there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Rachel Bowman, Gisele Schoene and Rick Owen

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The violence in Charlottesville is another example of how deep racial divisions run in this country. And next week on The Call-In, we're partnering with NPR's Code Switch team, which covers race and ethnicity. We want to focus on your personal interactions. What are your questions about racially charged social situations and how to handle them? Have you had an awkward exchange with your in-laws or your co-workers? Do you need advice about a specific situation you may have encountered? Call in with your questions at 202-216-9217. Be sure to include your full name, your contact info and where you're from. That number again, 202-216-9217.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.