FIRST ALERT: Solar Eclipse to put on a show of shadows - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

FIRST ALERT: Solar Eclipse to put on a show of shadows

Crescent shaped shadows from a tree during an eclipse Crescent shaped shadows from a tree during an eclipse
Crescent shaped shadows from a slotted spoon during an eclipse Crescent shaped shadows from a slotted spoon during an eclipse

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The solar eclipse across the country on Aug. 21 will not only provide an amazing celestial show in the sky, but shadows down here on Earth will put on quite a show as well. 

As the moon blocks out more and more of the sun on the afternoon of Aug. 21, everyday shadows will reflect the celestial actions above. 

The first change you'll notice to shadows on the ground comes as over 50 percent of the sun becomes blocked by the moon. Shadows on the ground will grow increasingly dark and sharp.  Imagine an adjustable flashlight.  The widest beam of light from that flashlight will cast broad, soft edged, and slightly darker shadows.  That's what we see on a normal day.  During an eclipse, it's like adjusting the flashlight to a narrow and sharp beam of light.  As you do that, shadows will become very sharp and very dark.  The same thing will happen to the sunlight as the eclipse unfolds. All the shadows around you will grow progressively darker and sharper. 

Another shadow phenomenon is the crescent shaped shadow that develops primarily under trees during an eclipse. Think of this as natures way of providing you with a way to view the eclipse. The numerous small holes and gaps between all the leaves of trees act as small pinhole projectors.  As the moon moves in front of the sun, these shadows will show just how much of the sun is covered by the moon with a crescent shape. No trees around?  Try a large serving spoon with holes in it, and you will see the same effect. 

The final shadow show comes from what is called 'shadow bands' and is only visible for a brief time in areas experiencing the total portion of the eclipse.  In our case, this will be across Georgetown and Williamsburg counties. 

These are among the most rare phenomena that you may see during the few minutes before and after the total eclipse. They appear as faint, rapidly moving bands of light that can be seen on primarily large, white objects. They often look like ripples of sunshine at the bottom of a swimming pool, and their visibility is not a guarantee, just something to look for.  You can look for shadow bands by hanging a large, white sheet, or by looking at the hood of a white car or white building. 

The simplest explanation is that they arise from atmospheric turbulence. According to NASA, when light rays pass through layers in the atmosphere, they are refracted - this is the same reason that stars appear to twinkle.  In the upper atmosphere there are turbulent areas of air that act like lenses to focus  sharp- light from the sun just before totality. The movement of these atmospheric areas is random between each eclipse and each location, so the appearance and movement of shadow bands cannot be predicted beforehand.

Safety First

  • Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
  • Always supervise children using solar filters.
  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
  • Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
  • Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.
  • If you are within the path of totality (https://go.nasa.gov/2pC0lhe (link is external)), remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases. Remember, Horry County is not located within the path of totality.
  • Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.

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