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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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The eclipse will be okay in Tampa Bay. It will be really good other places.

Here's what Tampa Bay residents making special vacations into the path of Monday's solar eclipse could experience.

It will get dark in the middle of the day. The brighter stars and planets will come out. The temperature will drop. Birds may start chirping.

"It's really a dramatic spectacle and millions of Americans will be able to see this," said Craig Joseph, astronomy professor and director of the St. Petersburg College Planetarium.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Americans will witness a total solar eclipse on Monday, bringing darkness for a few minutes across the middle of the country.

The event has created a corridor of tourism across the swath of the moon's shadow, and many Tampa Bay area residents are heading north to experience it.

But even here, the moon will be blocking more than 80 percent of the sun from 1:17 p.m. until 4:14 p.m. with maximum coverage taking place at 2:49 p.m. Without special eyeglasses, don't expect to notice a difference, said Joseph.

Many will gather to watch locally. Students in the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco school systems are allowed an excused absence to watch the eclipse.

A DAY OFF: School districts say students can stay home for eclipse

Joseph said a solar eclipse is an "all or nothing" kind of event.

"You could have 90 percent of the sun covered up by the moon and you wouldn't notice a difference because that's still a lot of sunlight coming through," Craig said.

If you do have access to a telescope with a solar filter or eyeglasses that give you appropriate protection, it will be fascinating to see the moon cross the sun, he said.

WEATHER: Will clouds get in the way of the eclipse? Check out our extended outlook.

If you want to head to the eclipse zone, it's about a 10-hour drive from the Tampa Bay area to the nearest point of totality, according to AAA Auto Club. Another option is the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Oasis of the Seas leaving Aug. 20 from Port Canaveral. It will have a side trip to the open sea in line with the path of the eclipse before heading to the Caribbean.

Observatories and libraries are planning lectures and safe viewing spaces to explain the phenomenon.

Those in the path of the total eclipse, Craig said, are going to get an "unprecedented shared national experience they will never forget," Craig said.

That's what Julio Soto, 50, of Tampa is hoping for. A product manager for AAA Travel, he had read about the eclipse and didn't give it much thought at first until he realized his relatives in Tennessee are right on the path in the Smoky Mountains. Now he's geeking out over the history and science of it.

"I never thought I would be, but it is a monumental wonder of nature," Soto said. "I literally understand what it is, but that whole sensation of having the sun being completely blocked out is pretty cool and it's a little unnerving and very sci-fi."

Tampa lawyer Brent Britton, 51, has been moping since the third grade when his hometown in Maine missed the last solar eclipse to cross the lower 48 states in 1979 because it rained all day.

He is flying to Denver with his wife and other Tampa friends, then will hop over to Wyoming to be in the middle of the line of totality. But he said he's going to keep a close eye on the weather report in case they need to drive elsewhere.

"I fully expect it to be one the most amazing events of my life," Britton said.

The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction. In modern times, a total eclipse was one of the first proofs of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

"The positions of the stars were measured and starlight was deflected by the gravity of the sun, just as Einstein's theory predicted," Craig said.

It has been nicknamed the All American Eclipse because this is the only land mass where the moon's shadow will touch.

"I think this will trigger more interest in the eclipses coming," said Soto, from his perspective as a travel executive. With more eclipses coming to North and South America in a few years, "it's all about experiential travel these days with everyone sharing it on social media."

After this U.S.-only eclipse, there will be another in July 2019, visible in parts of Argentina and Chile. Americans will get another shot in 2024, when a solar eclipse comes up from Mexico and hits several states on its diagonal path from Texas through New England.

Carbondale, Ill., will be the astronomy capital of the U.S., Craig said, getting both eclipses.

"Those lucky people don't even have to leave their back porch to see two total solar eclipses," Craig said.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.


For more information

Solar glasses: These could sell out, but while supplies last, retail chains offering eclipse glasses for $1-$3 include 7-Eleven, Circle K, Lowe's, Toys "R" Us and Walmart. Eclipse2017.org offers a list of eclipse glasses sold in packs of three to 200 from $1-$4. Some libraries have free solar glasses with special programs on the eclipse. See starnetlibraries.org/2017eclipse/ for a list of local libraries participating.

Lecture: On Friday evening, SPC Planetarium director Craig Joseph will present three free half-hour lectures on eclipses throughout history. 7 p.m., 7:40 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. 6605 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

NASA: The space agency's website has loads of information on the eclipse and its path and will be live streaming the event on Aug. 21 at nasa.gov.

Viewings

• St. Petersburg College Planetarium will have eclipse viewers and telescopes with solar filters available between 1:15 and 4 p.m. on Monday in the quad area of the St. Petersburg Gibbs campus, east of the Natural Science building, near the West St. Petersburg Library. The science building is accessible from 69th Street at Fifth Avenue N.

• Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry is hosting a free viewing of the eclipse through telescopes fitted with solar filters. Even if cloudy skies prevent firsthand viewing of the eclipse, MOSI will air a live-stream video of the event from NASA. 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. at 4801 E Fowler Ave.

• The 78th Street Community Library in Tampa will have free solar glasses while supplies last and an eclipse viewing starting at 1 p.m.

• The Safety Harbor Library will provide solar glasses for viewing at the city's waterfront park at 2 p.m. 110 Veterans Memorial Lane.

• As one of the highest elevations in Florida, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales is offering a unique lookout opportunity. The first 400 hundred visitors will receive free solar glasses. Admission: $14 adults, $5 kids ages 5-12. 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales.

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