Director Robert Morehead gazes up as the shutter of the Gott Observatory’s cranks open slowly. We’re here to talk about Monday’s solar eclipse, a happening that affords scientists a rare glimpse at the hottest part of the sun. The eclipse in Lubbock will start at 11:30 a.m. and the maximum coverage – about 72 percent –will occur at about 12:57 p.m. The moon will have entirely moved off the sun at just past 2:26 p.m.
According to Morehead, “The sun’s disk has to be obscured by about 90 percent before it starts getting dark enough to notice. It’s just like if the sun goes through a thin cloud, you don’t really notice. So the sun can dim quite a bit before you’re eyes actually notice.”
Astronomer Matt Penn at the National Solar Observatory in Arizona calls the corona, “the most beautiful thing you can see in the sky."
Morehead agrees. “The corona is this tenuous atmosphere that’s kind of streaming off of the sun that’s being accelerated by the solar wind that’s coming off the sun, these solar particles that are lifted off the sun just by the sun’s magnetic field and its brightness," Morehead said. "It’s very very hot, it’s about a million degrees and it’s pretty bright in x-rays and ultraviolet and it does have some visible light but it’s very defused so it’s very dim. So when the sun isn’t blocked, you can’t see it.”
Eclipses always occur during a new moon, with its illuminated side facing the sun.
Scientists can artificially view the corona whenever they want by placing a disk in their telescopes. But the moon does one thing those little disks can't: it exposes the innermost part of corona.
Satellites give scientists only so much information, which means every solar eclipse is another chance for them to see parts of the sun that aren’t seen from satellites. It was 1918 when the last solar eclipse passed over the entirety of the continental US.
People looking at the eclipse need proper eye protection to avoid causing permanent damage. The three locations in Lubbock hosting a watching event will have the special glasses available.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Texas Tech University Libraries will host a public viewing with experts from campus on hand to lead discussions, answer questions and provide insight. Food and snacks will be provided.
The city’s Patterson Library on Parkway Drive also will host a viewing that begins at 11:30 a.m. The Science Spectrum & Omni Theater on the South Loop is having a viewing event and will be live-streaming events from places where the eclipse will be total.
Tens of thousands of Americans are expected to travel to points inside the 70-mile-wide band of the total eclipse, known as totality, which will stretch from Oregon to South Carolina. Temperatures will drop a few degrees while the sun is completely blotted out and animals and birds may behave oddly.
“All the sudden in the middle of the day, it gets dark. So if you’re an animal, it gets dark and it’s time to go to bed, or it’s time to go hunt," Morehead said. "And then all the sudden a couple minutes later it gets light again and they’re kind of confused.”
Morehead was born two years before the 1979 eclipse that went over a small portion of the country. He’s been looking forward to Monday’s celestial show since he was 6 and will be in Oregon to witness two minutes of night during a day.
In 2024, Texans will have their chance to see totality and as Morehead explained it, “That’ll be a primo eclipse for Texas.”