Planning to catch the total eclipse of the sun? You aren't alone. - The Buffalo News
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Planning to catch the total eclipse of the sun? You aren't alone.

Gino Biondini reserved a single parking spot 1,003 miles away from Buffalo for 20 bucks.

Ernie Jacobs is still plotting back-up plans to his back-up plans for his upcoming journey to Aiken, S.C.

And Mark Percy is coaxing his wife and otherwise skeptical early 20s-something children to travel with him to western Kentucky.

They represent some of the dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of area residents boldly searching for the perfect spot along a roughly 70-mile wide diagonal line between Pacific City, Ore., and Charleston, S.C.

That’s where star-gazers hope to bask for up to 160 seconds under the dark shadow of the Great American Eclipse, coming Aug. 21.

“I’m not even going to attempt a photograph,” said Jacobs, a local astronomy enthusiast. “I want to completely take in the experience.”

That experience is nearly otherworldly,  according to those who have felt it.

Sun-eating dragons, poisoned skies and other myths tied to solar eclipses

As the moon closes in on blocking all of the sun’s light from reaching the earth, things start to happen.

The air rapidly cools. Stars and planets emerge amid daytime twilight. Animals run for shelter.

“From what I’ve heard, they say it’s an astonishing event,” said Biondini who plans to watch the total eclipse at St. Joseph, Mo., with his twin 10-year-old sons.

The roughly 70-mile wide swath where the total eclipse of the sun will be visible from Oregon to South Carolina. In Buffalo, about 72 percent of the sun will be obscured by the eclipse. (NASA)

The first coast-to-coast total eclipse in 99 years – and the first in the continental United States since 1979 – is why hotels have been booked for months along the route by totality thrill-seekers. Some of the largest cities on the total eclipse’s northwest to the southeast route are Salem, Ore.; Lincoln, Neb.; Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Charleston, S.C.

The eclipse will also pass through Yellowstone National Park.

Nashville, which is the closest geographically to Buffalo, is the biggest city on that list and probably the site of its biggest party too – the Music City Solar Eclipse.

The event’s website even includes a musical playlist: Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Nashville legend Dolly Parton’s “Shine Like the Sun” and others.

Don Paul: Bringing some light to the coming shadow of the moon

Nashville isn’t far from the spot of greatest eclipse – where the moon axis is most closely aligned with Earth – near the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

That’s where Percy, the director of the Williamsville Space Lab Planetarium, plans to be with his wife, Amy, and their children, Emma, 22, and Alexander, 20.

They plan to view totality about 93 miles to the northwest of Nashville at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Ky. at the Southeastern Planetarium Association’s three-day eclipse extravaganza that peaks with about 2 1/2 minutes of coronal awe.

Percy, who’s never seen totality, mapped out his plans more than two years ago and has been counting down the days to Aug. 21, 2017 ever since.

“It’s going to be the most memorable eclipse here in a long, long time,” said Percy, who's also building in some redundancies in case the weather doesn't cooperate.

"We are close to interstate highways that run roughly parallel to the path of totality," Percy said. "That is in case we need to move to get away from cloudy skies."

Where to watch the eclipse in Western New York

Daniel Marcus, a member of the Buffalo Astronomical Association, knows what that feels like.

He's been in the zone of totality three times: in Brandon, Manitoba, on a frigid Feb. 26, 1979; Hawaii's big island on July 11, 1991; and on a cruise in the Caribbean Sea on Feb. 26, 1998.

Cirrus clouds slightly obscured Marcus' view in Manitoba, and a minutes-long passing weather system eliminated it in Hawaii.

When a cruise captain chased down a clear spot at sea off Aruba in 1998, Marcus finally got the full show.

How does he describe it?

"Awesome," Marcus said. "It is kind of a religious experience."

He added: "The first 30 seconds, we just spent with our mouths hung open -- it was like 'wow.'"

The eclipse itself lasts two to three hours, but its most extraordinary features happen all in the span of a couple of minutes.

In Buffalo, where there will only be a partial eclipse, eye safety will be paramount for the duration of the event. In areas of totality, the total eclipse is viewable without protective eyewear. (NASA)

After making “first contact,” the moon gradually begins to eat away at more and more of the sun’s light over the course of about 60 to 90 minutes.

Just before the moment the moon engages in totally blocking the sun’s light, Biondini, Jacobs and Percy and others in the path of totality will see a “diamond ring” effect appearing in the sky followed by a phenomenon known as “Baily’s Beads.”

That’s when a bright sliver of sunlight appears to be mounted on a ring of light around the darkened moon. As the moon further shuts out the sunlight, the rugged topography and craters on the moon’s surface allow beads of sunlight to reach the Earth.

Then, totality is completed.

Any escaping sunlight is eliminated. The sky becomes an extraordinary midnight blue. Stars and planets emerge during the daytime. The corona – the sun’s aura – feathers out around the blackened moon.

That process can last from a few seconds to a maximum of about 2 minutes, 40 seconds.

For many, like Jacobs, who’ll experience totality for the first time, they’ll savor every precious second and leave the camera work to the professionals.

“It’s a one-and-done thing,” Jacobs said. “When the two minutes is over, the two minutes is over.”

He added: “There are no re-dos.”

Eclipse pictures for Jacobs’ memory book will have to wait. He expects there will be plenty to choose from.

“This is going to be the most attended, photographed and video-taped solar eclipse in human history,” Jacobs said.

The second half of the show is the same process in reverse until the moon gives back all of the sun’s light.

For those left behind in Buffalo, there won’t be a corona to see. Or a diamond ring. Or Baily’s Beads.

“Buffalo does not lie exactly on the path of totality, but a good part of the sun will be blocked in our area too," said cosmologist Dejan Stojkovic, a professor of physics in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. "So, if the weather permits, we should be getting a pretty good look of the eclipse."

[PDF: Buffalo's Guide to the 2017 Great American Eclipse]

At its peak, nearly three-quarters of the sun will be obscured in Western New York.

Eclipse viewing will be open to the public at the Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Preserve in Blasdell, the Buffalo Museum of Science, SUNY Buffalo State’s Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium, the Central Branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Wilkeson Pointe on the Outer Harbor and Calvin E. Krueger park in the Village of Wilson.

The partial eclipse begins at 1:11 p.m. in Buffalo, reaches its maximum at 2:34 p.m. and ends at 3:51 p.m.

Then, the countdown will begin toward April 8, 2024 – the next chance to see a total eclipse in the continental United States.

The center line of totality sweeps northeast from Texas to Maine. It will pass right over Buffalo.

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