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6 things to know about the Aug. 21 solar eclipse over St. Louis, from an author who has seen 5

David Baron, the author of "American Eclipse," discussed the upcoming total solar eclipse that will pass over parts of St. Louis on Aug. 21.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
David Baron, the author of "American Eclipse," discussed the upcoming total solar eclipse that will pass over parts of St. Louis on Aug. 21.

Author David Baron is not kidding when he says he’s been looking forward to the total solar eclipse that will occur on American soil on Aug. 21, 2017, for the past 19 years. In 1998, he saw his first total solar eclipse. He’s now seen five different total solar eclipses around the world … but never one over his homeland of the United States.

“It is the most awe-inspiring thing to happen in nature,” Baron told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “This isn’t just for science geeks, for astronomy aficionados, this is for everyone. It is like visiting a different planet for the two minutes it happens.”

Baron, a former NPR science correspondent, is the author of “American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World,” which details the history of a 116-mile wide solar eclipse that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Montana territory in 1878. The book follows characters such as famed investor Thomas Edison and sheds light on American scientific capabilities during the gilded age.

Baron discussed the history he charts in the book on St. Louis on the Air on Friday, but also dropped some essential knowledge for those of you who are wondering about this whole total solar eclipse thing. He’ll also be at the St. Louis Eclipse Expo, happening this weekend at Queeny Park.

1. Why is a total solar eclipse unusual?

“Right now, there’s blue sky outside,” Baron said. “The planets and the stars, they’re up there because the blue sky is effectively a screen, a curtain in the way. When a total solar eclipse comes in, it strips the blue sky away.

“You can see what’s up there, you can look toward the center of the solar system. That’s what blew me away in 1998. I could see the sun, although it looked like a shimmering wreath in outer space, and I could see the planets at the same time. You can see the planets and stars at night, but the sun is on the other side. This allows you to look into the solar system, which you can’t do at any other time.”

"American Eclipse," by David Baron.

2. What do you see during a total solar eclipse?

“The sky will be strange colors, it will be twilight overhead but on the horizon it will be orange like sunset all around you, 360 degrees,” Baron said. “You’ll see the planets, you’ll see the solar corona, a glorious wreath, but you’ll also see flames leaping off the sun, solar prominences, which are rosy pink. In the moments before the total eclipse, you’ll see shadow bands, ripples of light like you see under water, but over land.

“All the critters will be acting strange. Birds will act as if there’s a sudden, perplexing dusk. Bats may come out. Fireflies may come out. It is about 10 minutes before the total eclipse sets in that you really start to notice changes in the light and animals.”

3. Where’s the best place to see the total solar eclipse in St. Louis?

“There’s a huge difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial solar eclipse, Baron said. “St. Louis is in an interesting position. Half of the area will get a total solar eclipse and half will get a very deep partial eclipse. The southwestern part of St. Louis is when you’ll see a total solar eclipse.

“For instance, Kirkwood, Chesterfield are in the path of the eclipse. St. Charles, Ferguson are outside. In fact, downtown, according to NASA’s map, the St. Louis Science Center is just outside the path but the Missouri Botanical Garden is inside. It is a very narrow path.”

You can see the full map of exposure in the region here.

4. What time will the eclipse begin?

“The partial eclipse will begin at 11:49 a.m. here, when the moon starts to go over the sun. It will become total at 1:18 p.m. It will last anywhere from not-at-all if you are to the northeast to as much as 2.5 minutes to the southwest of St. Louis.”

5. What happens if it is rainy or cloudy on the day of the eclipse?

“It will be a disappointment, but it won’t be a complete washout. If you see it under grey skies, it will go from grey to really grey. You will sense this looming shadow overhead. It is safe to say you’ll get the hair standing up on your neck. But you really do want to see it with clear skies.”

6.How often do solar eclipses occur?

“Partial solar eclipses can occur several times per year, but I have to emphasize that a total solar eclipse is a totally different experience than a partial solar eclipse. A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on earth once every 18 months. It only passes over a very small area. It is a long and skinny track. Consider that the earth is more water than land, and the path of totality often only crosses an ocean or Antarctica. For it to occur over easily accessible land, that only happens once every six years or so.

For more information about eclipses and to learn more about Baron’s book, you can check out his website here.   

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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