Hayden Planetarium Associate Astronomer Joe Rao Discusses Solar Eclipse

Joe Rao, an associate astronomer at the Hayden Planetarium, talks to CBS2's Natalie Duddridge about Thursday's solar eclipse.

Video Transcript

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Well, there is something very cool, very special happening in the sky coming Thursday morning. A solar eclipse, of course. And viewers in the Tri-State area will be able to see this eclipse as long as the clouds stay away. You might just have to get up a little bit early for that.

So joining us now to give us more insight on this astronomical event is Joe Rao, who is an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. Thank you, Joe, so much for joining us.

JOE RAO: Well, thank you, Natalie. It's a great pleasure, and yeah, this is going to be kind of an interesting and rather special event. And even though I know a lot of folks out there, when they hear when they're going to have to get up to see this, at first here, this they say, oh well, I don't-- I don't think so, whatever.

But I'm going to try to make it intriguing enough so that out of curiosity, you will want to be up at that early hour, the crack of dawn, for a view of this celestial spectacle.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Now, before we dive into it, I understand you have a presentation. We're talking about just how early people have to get up. What time is that for the best viewing?

JOE RAO: Well, you know, we're coming up on the summer solstice, so the Sun is coming up now about as early as it can come up in the Tri-State area. Sunrise, 5:24 AM. So I would set my alarm a few minutes before that. And we'll get into the specifics as to what you need to do and what you are looking for in just a moment when we kick off this presentation.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Well, let's kick it off now. I'm curious to see what you've got here.

JOE RAO: All right, well--

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: I still recall the--

JOE RAO: All right, so I'm going to share my screen. And in doing so, I'm going to start my slide show. And away we go. The main reason that we get eclipses is the fact that from our planet Earth, the Sun and the Moon appear the same size. That sounds kind of strange, because we all know the Sun is so much larger than the Earth and many times larger than the Moon. In fact, 400 times larger to be exact.

But yet, the Moon is the same size in our sky because it's 400 times closer. So it offsets that huge size by being much closer to us as opposed to the Sun. So when the Moon comes in front of the Sun, it fits perfectly over the Sun, right?

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Wow.

JOE RAO: Not all the time. Not all the time though. The Moon goes around the Earth not in a perfect circle, but an eclipse. So sometimes it's very close to the Earth-- relatively speaking, about 221,000 miles away, we call that perigee-- and sometimes, on the other side of its orbit, it can be as far out as 253,000 miles. There's a difference in the size between near and far of about 12%.

And you could see that here in this image. On the left is when the Moon is far from the Earth, and on the right, you see when the Moon is close to the Earth. In fact, when the Moon is full and closest to the Earth, the media-- in recent years-- has come to call that the Supermoon.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Yes.

JOE RAO: Well, we had a Supermoon a couple of weeks ago, believe it or not. But for Thursday morning, the Moon is going to be in the other part of its orbit when it's far. And that's going to play a big role in what's going to happen.

Because you see, when the Moon throws its dark, conical shadow onto the surface of the Earth, when it's too far away-- when it's way out at a quarter of a million miles-- what happens is that the shadow falls just short of reaching the Earth. And if you were in that red area right there, you'd be right underneath the central shadow.

And what you would see is not a total eclipse of the Sun, but you would see what we're going to have on Thursday morning for parts of North America. An annular-- not an annual, it doesn't happen every year-- but annular, derived from the Greek annulus, which means ring-shaped. We're going to have a ring in the sky.

And you could demonstrate this, Natalie, very easily by reaching into your purse, taking out a nickel and a penny. Put the penny and the nickel on a table. Now, you try to cover up that nickel with that penny. You can't do it. The penny is a little too small.

Same thing is what's going to happen in the sky on Thursday morning. Consider the penny to be the Moon, consider the nickel to be the Sun. And you'll see that when they're aligned properly, you get that ring in the sky.

And there are many people who are going to be in the path of the ring of eclipse. In fact, some people are even calling it-- in tribute I guess to Johnny Cash-- the ring of fire in the sky. And that's going to happen at around sunrise for folks who are fortunate to be in the special zone of the ring eclipse, which is over Canada.

And sadly, we here in the United States are not going to be able to partake in that. Because although the pandemic is slowly subsiding and things are opening up, the border between Canada and the United States is still closed. So folks here in the States who were saying, I'm going to see that ring eclipse. Well, they won't be able to do so, because again, the borders are shut. They will probably open soon, but not soon enough for Thursday to see the eclipse.

This is an animation that shows you-- the red, that's the central shadow where the ring is going to be appearing. But look, that shadow passes right over the North Pole. So I'm hoping that Santa Claus gives the elves a few moments off from their toy making to step outside the big castle and see that great sight.

And then look at this. This huge shadow that covers North America, Greenland, it's even going to go over Europe. Everywhere in the big shadow, you'll be able to see at least part of the Sun covered. Now, this is an interesting map.

This line that you see here-- that is going to be where both the Sun is going to rise, and also where the eclipse is going to be reaching its peak right around the time of sunrise. So if you live in Sault Ste Marie or Toronto or Philadelphia, Asbury Park, Atlantic City, right here in little old New York-- what's going to happen is a most unusual sunrise. And I'm sure, Natalie, that at one time or another, you and many of the viewers out there watching may have said, I'm going to get up tomorrow morning. You know, Natalie, let's go down to Jones Beach and watch the sunrise. That should be really nice, right?

And this is what you would see. A big ball of orange and red emerging out of the Eastern sky. A lovely, lovely view. You have probably seen that every day of your life whenever it's clear and whenever you tried.

But this Thursday morning, we're going to have something a heck of a lot different than that. Thursday morning, when the Sun comes up, it's not going to look big and round. It's going to look like that.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Wow.

JOE RAO: It is going to be a scimitar. It looks like a slice of cantaloupe melon or a horseshoe with pointed tips. This is what we're all going to see. Now again, as we mentioned at the start, 5:24, that's the sunup. So you've got to get out there, you know, a bit earlier than that.

Make sure you have a clear vantage point with no tall buildings or trees or obstructions in the East-Northeast part of the sky. So a lot of people-- a lot of people I suspect, Natalie, are going to be heading for the shorelines, for the beaches in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Long Island for this coming Thursday morning to get a view of this. Or if you're in New York City, head up to a tall building, maybe a skyscraper.

I understand the Empire State Building is going to open early on Thursday morning for eclipse watchers and viewers. But that's 5:24. The peak of the eclipse, when 4/5 of the Sun will be behind the Moon, 5:32 AM. And watch quick, because less than an hour after the peak, it's all over at 6:30.

So you folks who've set your alarm, make sure you don't hit the snooze button. Because if you wake up, let's say, at 6:00 or 6:15-- oh my goodness, it's the eclipse-- by that time, it's pretty well over. And just to show you an animation from how it's going to look from here in the New York City metropolitan area, the cusps or the horns of the crescent are going to be pointed straight up.

And then as we watch the Sun rise, the crescent is going to pivot around to the left. And that's going to be somewhat dramatic. Here you go, up, up, up. There's the peak of the eclipse, and then the Sun will continue to ascend into the Eastern sky. The Moon will move on its way away to the left off the Sun's just completely by 6:30.

And very quickly, I want to say something about liability. We don't want anybody to do what this guy did, which is take his telescope and stare directly at the Sun. The Sun is 400,000 times brighter than the full Moon and emits not only visible rays, but also radiations of ultraviolet and infrared.

The ultraviolet, heck, that's what gives you a sunburn. You don't want that landing on the retina of your eyes. That could pretty much wreck your eyes. So what we are telling people is, be careful.

Now, if you want to watch the eclipse safely, here's one way. Get a mirror. Get a pocket mirror. Now, you make the sunlight reflect off of the mirror onto a wall.

Don't get too close to the wall though, because if you're like 4 or 5 feet away, what's going to happen is the reflection is going to look very much like the shape of the mirror. But if you get about 20, 30, 40 feet away from the wall, guess what happens? The mirror's image suddenly changes from the shape of the mirror to what is being reflected.

In that case, it's the Sun. A perfect circle most of the time. But if you try this on Thursday morning and reflect the light off of the mirror and onto a wall 40 or 50 feet away, you will get not a circle. You'll get a crescent just like what's happening up in the sky. Perfectly safe for not only you, but also everybody else who might be around you watching the reflection of the eclipse.

If you have a telescope, don't do what that guy in the cartoon did. Don't look through the telescope at the Sun. But put a kind of a shade collar up at the front of the telescope where the big lens is-- we call that the objective-- then trial and error.

Play around with the scope to get the Sun into the telescope, but don't look through the eye piece. Project the image onto a white piece of paper or cardboard-- that'll be your screen-- now, not only do you have a view of the Sun, but you have an enlarged or magnified view of the Sun. If there are any sunspots, you'll be able to see those as well.

And lastly, Natalie, eclipse glasses. We were talking about before we started here--

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Yes.

JOE RAO: --the eclipse four years ago in 2017. And lots and lots of people got hold of their eclipse glasses. These glasses are made of cardboard and a special plastic called polymer, which will block out both the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared rays so you can watch the eclipse safely. It's a wonderful thing.

It's been again, very, very popular. But now, here's the question. If you can't find your glasses from four years ago, can you get a pair of glasses now, in time for Thursday morning? Yes, you can. But as always has been the case when an eclipse is on its way, I've always found, you know, just like these guys, the scalpers outside of Yankee Stadium-- hey, you want to you want a ticket to today's game?

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Pair of glasses.

JOE RAO: $300. Of course, the ticket he's giving you for $300 cost only like $30 or $40 bucks. Well, these glasses normally would sell for $2 bucks a pop. Maybe you'd get four or five for $10. But there are places in Manhattan, camera stores in Manhattan that I can tell you right now will gladly sell you one pair of glasses for almost $50 bucks. That's the way it goes sometimes with eclipses.

So if you can't get a hold of eclipse glasses, my next best suggestion would be get your mirror out and watch the eclipse that way or with your telescope. But again, don't look through the telescope, just project the image and you should be A-OK on Thursday morning, weather conditions permitting.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Well, Joe, on that note, thank you so much. That was so interesting. And just to run through a fun few facts once again. So how long will this last?

JOE RAO: It's going to run from the time of sunrise at 5:25, the peak of the eclipse is 5:32, and by 6:30 it's all over and the Sun will be its normal, round, full self once again.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: OK, and lastly, just make sure we do not look directly at the Sun. Make sure we have the glasses ready.

JOE RAO: That's correct. Curiosity killed the cat, and curiosity-- if you care to stare at the Sun during the eclipse-- may just kill your eyesight as well. Don't do it. Take extra precautions because it'll be a special site, a special event, but you also have to take special precautions to watch.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much again. We look forward to it.

JOE RAO: OK, you too and enjoy it and thank you for inviting me.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: We'll see you bright and early Thursday morning. 5:24.

JOE RAO: I'll be there-- I'll be there-- actually, I'm going to be there with Lonnie Quinn, our super CBS 2 weatherman. We're going to be at a beach in Westport, Connecticut, Compo Beach. And so if you're in the vicinity, come on down. And hopefully, we'll all get a chance to get a look.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: I'll have to wake up extra early to come meet you guys.

JOE RAO: All righty.

NATALIE DUDDRIDGE: All right, take care, Joe. Appreciate it.