Around the last time a total solar eclipse passed over North America, McDonald's was introducing the Happy Meal, folks in Japan were sliding Michael Jackson’ s just-released Off the Wall cassette into a $150 gadget called a Sony Walkman, and President Jimmy Carter was addressing an edgy nation on gas lines and the energy crisis.
Also thirty-eight years ago, Frank Belinskey sojourned from White Bear Lake, MN, to Winnipeg in February to view the eclipse in totality. “It was cold,” says Belinsky. “There was a lot of snow. It was a beautiful day.” A retired dentist who now lives in Rapid City, Belinsky will travel with fellow members of the Black Hills Astronomical Society (BHAS) to Alliance, NE, to view the full solar eclipse occurring on August 21.
This year’s total eclipse path, about 71 miles in diameter, begins in the U.S. at Portland, Oregon, tracks through Casper, Wyoming and southeastern Nebraska, and exits the country in South Carolina. South Dakotans unwilling to travel will have to content themselves with a partial eclipse.
Belinskey, who presents on eclipses and other astronomical phenomena for the BHSA at their observatory north of Rapid City and at the Journey Museum, gave SDPB tips for optimum solar eclipse watching in South Dakota.
Katy Beem: “What will South Dakota see on August 21?”
Frank Belinsky: “In Rapid City, it’ll start around 10:27am and the whole duration of the partial eclipse will cover about 95.7% of the sun. There’ll be a little crescent of the sun showing. The duration will be two hours and 47 minutes. It’ll be a fairly complete partial eclipse, so even with 96% of the sun covered, you still need eye protection at all times. With 96% coverage, you might notice some dimming, but if you were just going about your business and didn’t know there was an eclipse, you probably wouldn’t notice it. You might think there must be come clouds or something. Just a little bit of dimming, but not that much.”
KB: “For watching, safety is number one. Can you give me the range of tips for viewing?”
FB: “There are very good, perfectly safe eclipse glasses available. They’re cardboard with a cellulite lens material that blocks 99.999% of the radiation. You can make a pinhole camera – project it onto a piece of paper taped to cardboard. Make a hole about a millimeter – the larger the hole, the less distinct the edge of the sun gets. Then there are eye-protection solar filters made specifically for binoculars or telescopes. Welder’s glass works great, too – number 12 or 13. Use protection the entire time. Even with a partial eclipse, you can burn your retina.”
KB: “Why do we still get so excited about eclipses?”
FB: “I think because, especially the total eclipse, it gets really dark. You can actually see the shadow actually coming across the ground toward you. It gets colder and animals stop making noises, birds stop singing. It’s just astronomers that start to make noise at that point."
KB: “Do you still get excited?”
FB: “Yeah, especially during a total eclipse. But we’re worried about crowds. We’re going to Alliance, Nebraska, but of course a lot of people have the same thing in mind. So the BHAS has a special location that we’ve arranged for. There hasn’t been a hotel room available for two years in Alliance or along the path.”
KB: “Does it give you hope in humanity that people still get excited about eclipses?”
FB: “Especially young people, if they can take part. Even the partial eclipse – really start to think about what is going on up there. Some people talk about how they want to photograph the total eclipse and there’s stuff online about things to keep in mind and whatnot. I don’t think I’m even going to bother. I think I’m just going to sit and look at it for two and a half minutes.”
KB: “You want to be present to it. Why?”
FB: “Since it’s only two and a half minutes, I don’t want to spend so much time screwing around with a camera. Look at the horizon and look at things like that because colors will change. You’ll see planets, too. Jupiter down to the lower left and Saturn. Stars will be visible. Mars, Venus and Regulus – the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. You’ll be able to see the concept of the elliptic. You can experience it better just by watching it.”
SDPB's Spotlight on Space
NOVA Eclipse Over America -- A special Monday edition incorporates moments from the eclipse earlier in the day. Join scientists and citizens alike as they observe the first total solar eclipse to traverse the U.S. mainland in more than a generation. Discover the storied history of eclipse science and follow current, cutting-edge research into the solar corona.
SDPB1: Monday, Aug. 21 8pm (7 MT) & Wednesday, Aug. 23, 7pm (6 MT)
The Farthest -- Voyager in Space – In 2012, Voyager 1 left our solar system and ushered humanity in the interstellar age. Learn how NASA’s epic Voyager missions, launched in 1977, revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune their dazzling moons and rings.
SDPB1: Wednesday, Aug. 23, 8pm (7 MT)