Local News

Total solar eclipse to showcase celestial event

Some unique events are happening in the sky this spring. A penumbral lunar eclipse, typically the most uneventful of all eclipse types, happened  with the full moon on March 25. Next up will be the Total Solar Eclipse and the Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, also known as the Devil Comet, will occur on April 8. 

According to Kirkwood Community College Astronomy Instructor Brent Studer, “The fact that Pons-Brooks is passing near the sun this April is a happy coincidence, but nothing more. During any given year there may be a 10 to 20 comets visible through binoculars or small telescopes.” 

According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee planetarium director Jean Creighton, the comet gets its name from to a distinctive look that some astronomers say somewhat resembles devil horns due to the gas and dust the comet spews. 

As for the solar eclipse, Studer said, “For those viewing the eclipse outside of the path of totality, there is no possibility of seeing the comet. Here in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor, about 87% of the sun will be obscured on April 8. The sunlight will be dimmed to seem like a very cloudy day.” 

Studer said, although it is a bit unusual for there to be two eclipses over the U.S. in just seven years, it is not unheard of. The chance of any one location on Earth experiencing a total solar eclipse is about once every 375 years or so (the next one visible over Cedar Rapids and Iowa City will not  occur until October 17, 2153). 

He went on to say, “The next time two total solar eclipses will be visible over the United States will be August 12, 2045, and March 30, 2052. That will be the last time the U.S. experiences a pair of eclipses in the 21st century.” 

“For the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, I would encourage anyone who can take a short trip to try and experience totality. There is absolutely nothing like it,” said Studer. “Also pay attention to nature, though. Changes in temperature, the quality of daylight, and the behavior of wildlife and plants are fascinating to observe.” 

For those experiencing the partial solar eclipse from Eastern Iowa, Studer said the important thing to remember is there is no part of the eclipse that is safe to view without eye protection. “Eclipse glasses must be worn at all times when looking at the sun except for the few brief minutes of totality when the moon completely obscured the sun. Here, even during maximum coverage, the 13% of the sun still visible will be about 15,000 times brighter than the full moon,” he said.  

“Sunglasses, regardless of how dark they appear, will not reach the level of safety to protect your eyes and therefore are NOT safe for viewing the sun or the partial eclipse directly. Eclipse viewers are at least 1,000 times darker than the darkest sunglasses,” said Studer. 

He added, “Special-purpose solar filters or certified eclipse glasses may be used to view an eclipse. If a solar filter is not available, the safest way to watch a solar eclipse is by turning your back to the sun and watching a projection through devices like a pinhole projector.” 

Karen Gehr, MD, ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal diseases at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics also warned about viewing the eclipse without proper eye wear.  

“Watching a solar eclipse can be an extraordinary experience but looking directly at the sun can seriously damage your eyes. Proper eye protection during the eclipse period is necessary to avoid damaging your vision permanently. Staring at the sun – even for a very short period of time – without the right eye protection can damage your retina and lead to permanent vision loss,” explained Gehrs. 

“It is important to know that regular sunglasses, even very dark ones, cannot protect your eyes from damage caused by looking directly at the sun,” Gehrs cautioned.  

Many local stores in the area, including Hy-Vee, Walmart and Casey’s, are selling eclipse glasses for a few dollars each.  

In a NASA media release, Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, “This year’s total solar eclipse will be at least partially visible to all in the contiguous United States, making it the most accessible eclipse this nation has experienced in this generation.”  

The time to see the eclipse from the main campus in Cedar Rapids: Start 12:46 p.m. – Peak 2:01 p.m. – End 3:16 p.m. weather permitting. 

Categories: Local News, News