WAXAHACHIE — In what will be an awe-inspiring sight, come Monday morning Ellis County residents will have the opportunity to witness the natural phenomenon of a solar eclipse.
Partially, at least.
Spreading coast-to-coast in about a 70-mile radius, the 2017 solar eclipse will cast a shadow as the moon lines up with the sun, which will give the appearance that the two are the same in angular size. The event occurs Monday, Aug. 21 in what’s called “a path of totality.”
According to NASA, the Sun is 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther away, so they coincidentally appear to be the same size in the sky. The last solar eclipse to shadow Texas was on Feb. 26, 1979. The predictions for the next one will take place seven years from now on April 8, 2024.
NASA also notes that since 1503, there has been a total of 15 solar eclipse paths to cross the same path as this year's blackout.
“If the moon’s orbit was absolutely parallel and lined up with the earth’s equator, we’d get one a month,” explained Larry Barr, Tarleton State University planetarium manager. “But the axis of the moon’s orbit is tilted several degrees from the earth.”
“And so, as everything goes around and the moon circles the earth and the earth circles the sun, it's just varying times that they [the eclipses] come back and everything lines up perfectly."
Though the sight is sure to impress, professionals urge the community to take proper safety eyesight precautions before watching.
“The complete solar eclipse is a wonderful and memorable phenomenon that should be experienced by everyone in the eclipse path,” expressed Dr. Galen Kemp, a Waxahachie-based ophthalmologist.
“It is essential, however, that viewing is done safely,” he emphasized.
As the U.S. track stretches from Oregon and exits South Carolina, only 14 of the 50 states will witness a full solar eclipse, while Texas, according to Barr, will observe 72 percent of the moon blocking the sun.
“So the shadow of the moon is going to cover up about 72 percent of the sun here,” Barr explained. “But we’ve got 28 percent that you’re still looking at, so it’s going to be really bright so make sure you’ve got good eye protection.”
Kemp also notes that viewing even the slightest portion of the sun’s crest for any amount of time could cause irreversible harm to one’s vision.
“Viewing the sun directly, even for brief periods, can cause permanent damage to the retina and result in blindness,” Kemp explained. “I have patients who viewed the sun 40 years ago, who remain without central vision in their affected eyes."
Kemp added that a person’s eyes act like a handheld magnifying glass, burning holes in the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells when the retina encounters the sun’s brightness, unable to adjust and eventually causing blindness.
Two of the most common stages of blindness that transpire from looking directly at the sun are photokeratitis and solar retinopathy.
Explained by Review of Optometry, photokeratitis will cause blistering of the cornea cells, causing a sandpaper-like sensation on the eyes and temporarily causing blindness for a few days. Solar retinopathy burns the retina with ultraviolet (UV) light that comes from the sun, causing prolonged effects of macular degeneration, blurred vision, or even partial blindness.
Combating the harmful effects of the sun's light, Barr urges onlookers to invest in protective eyewear.
“There are eclipse glasses, but if people cannot find eclipse glasses, a welding helmet will work,” Barr affirmed. “But a shade of ten is the absolute minimum you need to get – the higher the number of shades are, the better.”
“Regular sunglasses are not going to work either,” he added. “If you’re looking at the sun through something and you’re getting an after image, then your shade is not dark enough."
Though there is a small window to “cheat the system” and look directly into the sun during totality, unfortunately, Ellis County residents won’t be able to look long due to being in a region of a partial eclipse.
“For Waxahachie, the eclipse, where the moon touches the edge of the sun will start at 11:40 a.m.,” Barr confirmed. “The maximum seclusion will happen at 1:10 p.m. And the end where the shadow of the moon clears the sun will be at 2:39 p.m.”
“For Texas, we'll have a 'partial eclipse,' where the moon covers up part of the sun. But the next one to hit us will be in 2024, and we will be in the path of totality for that one,” he included.
Both Kemp and Barr encourage the community to enjoy the rare shadow of the moon, but to also be cautious when Monday’s eclipse crosses over Texas.
To watch the eclipse live online, go to nationaleclipse.com