From the comfort of your own couch or cubicle, you can have a front-row seat to next week’s total eclipse thanks to a team from the University of Maine and a balloon floating three times higher than a commercial airliner flies.
The UMaine High Altitude Ballooning group will travel to Clemson University in South Carolina, where it will be one of many teams documenting the eclipse as part of the NASA-sponsored Great American Eclipse project.
On Monday, Aug. 21, millions of Americans are expected to tilt their heads upward to catch a glimpse of a total eclipse of the sun, which will be blocked out as the moon passes in front of it. The best views of the eclipse will be in a 70-mile-wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.
The UMaine group, partnering with Montana State University, will launch a pair of high-altitude balloons about 110,000 feet above Clemson to capture a unique angle on the event, which will be broadcast live on the internet at nasa.gov/eclipselive.
“The live-stream video will show the curvature of the planet, the blackness of space, and the whole of the moon’s shadow crossing the earth during the eclipse,” Angela DesJardins, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, said in a statement. “By live streaming it on the internet, we are providing people across the world an opportunity to experience the eclipse in a unique way.”
More than 50 other teams from across the country plan on doing the same, creating a network of high-altitude cameras to catch the action as the eclipse draws its path across the country. Because they’ll be on the East Coast, UMaine’s balloons will be among the last to go airborne.
As many as 50,000 people are expected to go to Clemson University to watch the eclipse, according to campus officials.
The moon will block out the sun for about 2½ minutes as it passes over Clemson around 2:37 p.m. The full eclipse, when viewed from one spot, will last nearly three hours. In Maine, the view won’t be as impressive, as the moon will cover only about half the sun at the peak of the eclipse around 2:45 p.m., according to Shawn Laatsch, director of the Emera Astronomy Center at UMaine.
The Emera Astronomy Center also has scheduled several eclipse-related events. It will show “Totality: Explore the Wonder of Eclipses” at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Aug. 21, followed by a viewing of the eclipse at Clark Observatory. The show will be repeated at 7 p.m. every Friday in August.
As with any eclipse event, it’s worth noting that people should not look directly at the sun during an eclipse. Doing so can cause severe eye damage. Anyone heading out to watch the eclipse should use special-purpose “eclipse glasses” or other solar filters. It’s safe to stare at the sun on a computer screen without any protection.
More details are available at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.