Release Date: August 16, 2017 This content is archived.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — During a total solar eclipse, the sky grows dark, as if dusk were falling. Stars and planets emerge. The air cools and birds may go quiet. Insects and other critters of the night may come to life.
The last time such an event was visible from the contiguous United States was 1979, so the one that will occur on Aug. 21 will be a first for many people in this country, says University at Buffalo expert Gino Biondini.
That includes Biondini, who will journey to Missouri to view the eclipse with his twin 10-year-old boys.
“In a total solar eclipse, the moon covers the sun completely,” says Biondini, a professor of mathematics in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences who received his PhD in theoretical physics. “When that happens, the sky goes completely dark, the temperature drops, and people will be able to see stars in the sky as if it were nighttime.
“For most people in the U.S., this is the first chance to observe a total solar eclipse in their lifetime,” he adds. “The ‘path of totality’ will cross the whole continental U.S., including several major cities, and will affect millions of people.”
Biondini explains that a solar eclipse occurs when the moon's path in space happens to cross between the sun and the Earth.
“During the eclipse, a portion of the Earth is in the moon's shadow,” he says. “The radius of the sun is 400 times larger than that of the moon, but the sun is also approximately 400 times as far away from the Earth as the moon, so the two objects appear to be approximately of the same size in the sky.
“In a partial solar eclipse, the moon's position overlaps with the sun only partially. In contrast, in a total solar eclipse the moon covers the sun completely.”
When that happens, places that fall under the moon’s darkest shadow are said to fall into the eclipse’s path of totality.
Next week, on Aug. 21, “Buffalo will not be in the path of totality, so observers in Buffalo will not see the sky go completely dark,” Biondini says. “Instead, they will observe a partial eclipse, in which the moon only covers part of the sun.”
However, if you live in Western New York and can’t travel to see the full spectacle on Aug. 21, don’t worry, Biondini says: this region will have its turn in a few years, on April 8, 2024.
That’s when Buffalo will lie in the path of totality of another total solar eclipse.
Biondini will be available for phone or in-person interviews on Friday, Aug. 18.