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Touring The Evening Skies

August 5, 2017
By Jim Bonser , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

The big day is almost here. On August 21, the Moon will silently glide in front of the Sun blocking our view of the Sun's disk and letting only the outer edges of the Sun's atmosphere, called the corona, shine in a deep, deep blue sky. Unfortunately, to see totality you will have to leave Iowa except for a tiny area in the extreme southwest corner of our state. Even there, totality won't last long so it would be worthwhile to travel to get closer to the "centerline" where totality will last longer. If you are able to take the time off from work and travel, there are many maps on the internet that show where the path of greatest eclipse or totality will be. Travel associations are warning travelers to give themselves plenty of extra time because so many people will be trying to get a good look and roads might become very congested.

A really good website to learn about this eclipse is Another is Both have information about where to go as well as how to safely view the eclipse. Remember, even when the Sun is mostly eclipsed by the Moon, it is still sending out enough radiation to cause blindness so do not look at the Sun during the partial phases without some kind of safe filter. Again, the web sites I mentioned above as well as the August issues of Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines have lots of information about ways to safely view the eclipse and I would strongly recommend you visit the sites or visit your library and read the magazine articles that cover these topics.

If you are not able to travel to see totality, don't worry, there will certainly be television and streaming web services available such as: where you can watch it live. Although Iowans will not get to see totality (except in the southwest corner), all of Iowa will still be treated to a partial eclipse. Along the Highway 30 corridor between Ames and Cedar Rapids, the Sun's disk will be slightly more than 90% covered by the Moon and maximum eclipse will be about 1:08 in Ames, 1:09 in Marshalltown and 1:12 in Cedar Rapids.

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Although there are many ways to safely view the eclipse, the easiest way is to get a pair of "Eclipse Viewing Glasses". These look sort of like cardboard 3D glasses except they have 'lenses' that block all but a tiny amount of visible light and all of the ultraviolet and infrared. These glasses are fairly inexpensive and available over the internet. Many astronomy clubs including the Ames club, the Des Moines club, the Marshalltown club and the Cedar Rapids club are giving them away to interested public. Once again: do not look at the partially eclipsed Sun without safe filters such as these glasses. Look for ISO 12312-2 printed on them somewhere and you will know they are safe. Let's all hope for a friendly high pressure system to dominate the weather in the Midwest that day so we can all get a good look at this awe inspiring event!

In our August evening skies, Jupiter is still 'King' but is moving farther to the west-southwest and closer to the Sun at sunset. It still shines very bright and is easy to see a half hour or so after sunset. Jupiter is still quite impressive through a telescope, although because it is getting so low and we must view it thorough so much of Earth's atmosphere clean sharp images are becoming rarer.

The real showpiece of the evening skies this month is my favorite planet: Saturn. Saturn is due south at about 9 o'clock in the middle of the month and is easy to spot amid the stars of a less well known constellation called Ophiuchus. It is right in the middle between Sagittarius and Scorpius. Saturn is visited by a bright waxing gibbous moon on August 29 and 30. The bright moon will wash out most of the stars in the area, but Saturn will shine through the haze with no trouble.

The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks this year on August 12th. The waning gibbous Moon will wash out most of the fainter ones, but you may still spot a few if you can keep the moon hidden behind a building or tree. Clear Skies!



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