Science

Atlanta Scientists Get Psyched For Aug. 21 Total Solar Eclipse

On Nov. 13, 2012, a narrow corridor in the Southern Hemisphere experienced a total solar eclipse. The corridor lay mostly over the ocean but also cut across the northern tip of Australia.
On Nov. 13, 2012, a narrow corridor in the Southern Hemisphere experienced a total solar eclipse. The corridor lay mostly over the ocean but also cut across the northern tip of Australia.
Credit Romeo Durscher / NASA
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On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will slide across the United States, visible in a strip of land from Oregon to South Carolina, including in a corner of northeast Georgia.

There will be a partial eclipse in a much broader area, but in the path of totality, including in Rabun County, the moon will completely block out the sun, the stars will come out, and the temperature will drop.

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It’s luck that the sun and the moon appear to be the same size from Earth, so that the moon, which is really much smaller than the sun, can block it from view. Still, even though they’re basically just coincidences, eclipses are useful to scientists. In the past, they’ve been used for studying the moon and the sun. A total eclipse in 1919 helped prove Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Atlanta scientists are excited for this one, too.

“I’m just a fan. I think it’s really neat that sometimes the sun goes off,” said Amy Lovell, an astronomer at Agnes Scott College.

She said she’s seen one other total solar eclipse.

“The excitement was really palpable,” she said. “Everybody was cheering; they were clapping; they were excited; there was a lot of noise. And then when the totality came, and the sun actually went dark, it got very quiet because everybody was kind of awed.”

Lovell said she’s not sure yet where she’ll watch this upcoming eclipse. She and her students will go to wherever the weather is best for them to launch a balloon to observe the shadow of the eclipse moving across the Earth.

Ben McGimsey, an astronomer at Georgia State University, plans to be at a big public event at the Rabun Gap Nacoochee School with food trucks, live music and telescopes.

“It’s almost a party with a little bit of science thrown in,” he said.

Morris Cohen, a professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, is using this eclipse to study a part of the Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere and how the sun affects it. He and his students will have equipment set up across the country — including at a summer camp in North Georgia.

He said the path of this eclipse, cutting across the country, makes it special — and convenient.

“Many eclipses sweep over the Pacific Ocean. It’s hard to take measurements there,” he said.