By now, you’ve probably – hopefully – heard that there’s a total solar eclipse to watch out for on 21 August this year. Dubbed the ‘Great American Eclipse’, it’s the first such event travelling coast to coast across the United States since 1918 and everyone is super excited.
Naturally, NASA has been using this excitement to do some quality public engagement, and last night they even hosted a science Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, featuring six actual NASA scientists. There were a lot of valuable scientific queries, but plenty of stuff on the lighter side, too. Below are some of our favourite tidbits.
1. Will I really go blind? Really?
You certainly don’t want to be looking directly at the sun, ever – but some people still have their doubts.
Contact me in braille after you are done with the experiment. Seriously, do not attempt this experiment. You can look at it during the 1.5 minutes of totality, but be careful to look away the moment the light gets brighter. Not kidding. Look away instantly.
To a similar query, astronomer Bill Cooke told the cautionary tale of his own unfortunate eye damage:
You can damage your eyes without feeling pain. I know because I have a scar on my retina from not getting my eye protection back on at the end of totality during the 1979 eclipse. Please don’t follow my example!
So yes, do wear proper eye protection.
2. Are my animals going to go blind? Or freak out?
One person was really worried about their horses, hoping that they wouldn’t look directly at the sky:
Dumb question….do animals suffer eye damage during a total eclipse? Do they even care to look into the sky? The reason I ask is because I have a couple horses that live outside 24/7 and I don’t want to be slapped with a major vet bill on the 22nd.
As it turns out, NASA’s Bill Cooke has actually experienced a solar eclipse together with a pasture full of horses, and they did not go blind – just ran around a bit, in confusion. Phew.
Several people mentioned animals, and it’s actually a really interesting topic – researchers encourage people to take note on how animals are behaving during the eclipse, because it’s one of those subjects that’s tricky to study due to its rarity.
3. WHAT IF THERE ARE CLOUDS?
As with any phenomenon that involves staring a clear sky, the worst thing that can happen is cloud cover. Having direct access to scientists from NASA, some Reddit users were keen to just get the weather report from them. Okay then.
But we did learn from Bill Cooke that if you’re in the path of totality and there are clouds, you’ll still get something.
“It will get dark if you’re in the path of totality! But it is a weird dark,” he wrote.
4. How much fun will I miss out on if I don’t watch it?
One person really didn’t want to go on their family trip to Oregon to experience the eclipse, so NASA’s geologist Noah Petro tried talking them into it:
You’d be missing out on a really awesome experience! Solar eclipses are rare enough that you really shouldn’t pass up the chance to see it, if you can! The next total eclipse in the US will be 2024, but it won’t be in Oregon.
5. Does NASA have advice for my eclipse wedding?
Some couples have come up with the fun idea that the spectacle of an eclipse would make a great backdrop for a wedding. So naturally, one of these ‘eclipse brides’ sought input on her big day from NASA scientists.
“Don’t lock your knees, drink lots of water, make sure you get some appetizers, have fun, and congratulations! Make sure you and your guests have eclipse glasses,” replied Noah Petro.
Solid advice for any event, really.
6. How long before we don’t have any more eclipses?
For as long as humans have occupied our planet we’ve had the spectacle of eclipses (with the earliest eclipse confirmed in 3340BC), but this celestial arrangement is not always going to stick around – some Reddit users aware of this wanted to know how long we have until the Moon recedes too far.
Turns out we have plenty of time to still experience some more totalities – about 600 million years to be precise, according to solar scientist Mitzi Adams.
7. Can I use this to convince my flat earther friend?
Reddit user mistaotoo wanted to know if there would be “any physical proof during the eclipse” that could change the mind of their friend who is into flat Earth theories.
And we just love this answer by NASA’s Jay Herman:
Of course the earth is flat. Otherwise you would fall off. We are working on the problem of where the sun goes every day when it sets over a flat earth. So far, we have not seen clouds of steam when it hits the ocean.
Bonus: Just sometimes, the best questions are actually comments, like this one:
I just want to thank you and all your coworkers for ensuring the human race never stops learning and exploring, you scientists should be the real super stars.
We totally agree. Thank you very much, NASA!
You can check out the rest of the AMA and some of the more serious scientific answers here.