The partial eclipse of the sun on Monday will be a memorable event for those who have never seen one, but a local doctor is urging people to heed the warnings not to view it without proper eye protection.
The eclipse will start at 11:50 a.m. as the edge of the sun is covered. The sun will be mostly covered from 1:17 to 1:20 p.m. It will again be completely visible at 2:45 p.m.
Renae Kerrigan, the Peoria Riverfront Museum planetarium curator, said viewing it is well worth the time.
“Eclipses — some place on the world you can see one roughly every two years,” said Kerrigan. “However, usually you have to travel to the very narrow path that the moon is casting onto the Earth, so it could be happening in a remote location — in the middle of the ocean somewhere, in Africa, in Europe.
“So most of the time you have to travel to some place far away. What makes this one so exciting is that it’s so accessible to so many people in the United States. It has been about a hundred years since a total solar eclipse has been so accessible to so many people in the U.S. The last one that crossed coast to coast was in 1918.”
An eclipse occurs when the moon passes in between the Earth and the sun. People in the Pekin/Peoria area will be able to see a 93 percent solar eclipse. The Carbondale area will see a 100 percent eclipse. The most recent partial eclipses visible to the Pekin/Peoria area were in 1963 and 1979. The next partial eclipse will be in 2024 when again the full eclipse will be in Carbondale. In 1994, there was an annular eclipse that was visible in this area. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is farther away from the Earth in its orbit around the sun. It presents with an orange ring around the moon, said Kerrigan.
The fact that another will occur in seven years across the United States “is rare.” The next total eclipse in the United States will be in 2045. The Pekin/Peoria will experience a 100 percent eclipse of the sun in 2153. The last total eclipse that crossed in the Peoria area was in the 1800s, said Kerrigan.
During Monday’s event, Kerrigan said, it will only get slightly dimmer than normal in Pekin/Peoria area.
“You won’t have the experience (here) of the sky getting dark enough to see stars,” said Kerrigan. “During the total eclipse (in southern Illinois) you will be able to see Jupiter and Venus and you will be able to see the brightest stars. It will not be as dark as it gets in the middle of the night, but it will be quite dim for about two minutes and 40 seconds.”
Kerrigan said the sun is powerful and can cause damage to eyes.
“Any day of the year that you look at the sun you could damage your eyes by looking at the sun,” said Kerrigan. “That’s why we don’t look at the sun.
“That’s why we instinctually look away, because it’s so bright it can hurt your eyes. The thing is, during an eclipse people have a motivation to look at the sun that they might not have on a normal day.”
Pekin Optometrist Brendon Johnson said the danger is real — the sun’s rays will burn the macula of the eye and the damage is permanent.
“The macula is where you see your 20/20 vision and it can burn that,” said Johnson. “It’s called solar retinopathy — that’s the technical name.
“It just kind of burns a hole in it pretty much. (The time it takes for damage to occur) varies with everybody. You’re not supposed to look at it at all if you don’t have solar eclipse glasses or the equivalent of that. There’s a safety standard for that. There has been a problem lately with people selling glasses that are not equipped with that safety standard, so a lot of them are being recalled. If they are torn or scratched, you shouldn’t be wearing that because it can still let the sun through.”
The international safety standard for eclipse glasses is ISO 12312-2. That has to be written on the glasses.
“When you put the glasses on you shouldn’t see anything at all,” said Johnson. “When you look at the sun, once the eclipse goes through you will see it. (The eclipse glasses are) almost even darker than welding glasses, the welding shield.”
Some people are using welder’s glasses, but it must have a Number 14 rating to be safe. Anything lower than that will not protect the viewer, said Kerrigan.
Science has awakened people to the wonders of the eclipse and made it safe to view.
In centuries past, solar eclipses were seen as “ominous signs,” said Kerrigan, “as something to be afraid of or something to be on your guard against and that was likely because people did not have the tools to observe these and understand what was happening. We now know that there is nothing scary happening at all. It’s a phenomena of nature. It’s one of the natural wonders of the world.”
The River Front Museum in Peoria will have a free Solar Eclipse Viewing Party from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday on the Sun Plaza at the museum.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin