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Denton isn't in the path of totality for the solar eclipse. But viewers will still be able to see it

Juan Bentancourt
Denton Record-Chronicle

Denton won’t be in the path of totality for the April 8 solar eclipse, but locals who look to the sky midday will still see something almost completely that hasn’t happened in 100 years.

Rebekah Purvis, a professor of physics and astronomy at University of North Texas and a heliophysics researcher, said she and her team will be in Frisco, which is in the path of totality.

If you stay in Denton, you’ll almost experience the solar eclipse in full. Denton will experience 99% of totality. That means that a sliver of the sun will be visible, and the magnificent corona — that crown of dancing light that rings the moon — won’t appear for folks in Denton.

“In parts of Dallas, it will be almost four minutes where you can look,” Purvis said. “In Fort Worth, it’s going to be about two minutes. In Denton, it’s zero minutes.”

That doesn’t mean locals won’t be able to see an extraordinary sight, and UNT will have a watch party from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. April 8 on the south lawn of the UNT Union, located at 1155 Union Circle Drive.

UNT astronomers will be livestreaming the eclipse from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at UNT’s Frisco Landing campus, located at 12994 Preston Road, that day.

A third watch party will be at UNT Discovery Park from 12:30 to 2:30, located at 3940 N. Elm St. Discovery Park will experience 98% of totality.

Purvis’ specialization in heliophysics, or the study of the sun and its influence on objects in the solar system, puts her at the helm of the university’s upcoming events to prepare locals for the once-in-a-lifetime event.

She’s prepping ahead of the event, as well. ”Totality Awesome” is an informal session on eclipses and the April 8 event that includes a 45-minute planetarium show at 11 a.m., 12:15 and 1:30 p.m. on March 23 and March 30. Trivia, games and a Q&A with Purvis will be going on throughout the event, which is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both dates. “Totality Awesome” will take place at the UNT Environmental Education, Science & Technology Building, 1704 W. Mulberry St. in Denton.

What is totality, anyway?

Totality is the time period where the moon completely blocks the sun, and Purvis said the path of totality for the upcoming eclipse is about 112 miles wide. Denton falls just outside of the path. She knows that sky watchers will be comparing the upcoming eclipse with the solar eclipse of August 2017.

“This time the moon is a little bit closer to the Earth as it passes in between the Earth and the sun,” she said. “How wide the path is depends on the distance between the Earth and the moon, right? And so since the moon’s a little bit closer, this is about, I think, 112 miles.

“In 2017 it was not quite half that but significantly slimmer,” she said. “So that’s one thing that makes this special, is how many people are going to enjoy it. But Denton is just on the outside, and so I strongly encourage, if possible, for people to make plans to get themselves into totality so that they can take off their glasses during this moment when the moon is blocking the sun.”

If that caused the sound of a record skip in your head, Purvis insists that you can look at a solar eclipse when the moon completely blocks the sun.

“You’ll know when it happens if you’re wearing your glasses,” she said. “You’ll be able to tell because you won’t be able to see anything anymore.”

So what exactly happens during a solar eclipse?

“Every month, the moon passes in between the sun and the Earth as it makes its loop around the Earth, right?” Purvis said. “But most months, the moon either passes above the sun in the sky or below the sun in the sky as it makes its way around.”

That tendency to pass higher or lower than the sun is thanks to the moon being tilted.

“It’s not exactly in line with the line that connects the Earth and the sun,” Purvis said. “And so every once in a while, though, it doesn’t miss, and it will go right in between the Earth and the sun. That’s what’s going to happen in April.”

In Denton, the sun will be about 99.8% blocked by the moon, Purvis said. The light will fade temporarily, casting shadows akin to those at twilight. Sensitive viewers might feel the difference.

“To compare to August 2017, it was 86% for the annual eclipse,” she said. “We had an event here and it was just right outside this building. We all felt the temperature change. And it really did feel like it got a little darker, which I wasn’t expecting. So even even at 86%, we felt something. So at 99.8 percent, people are going to feel something, but it’s just not that final moment where you can see the sun’s atmosphere. You won’t see that here.”

Want to see if your house or office will be in the path of totality? Check this page.

Safe viewing

Medical and solar experts have a regular plea when it comes to viewing solar eclipses: Don’t stare at the eclipse. It can burn your retinas — and without any pain.

“If you touch a hot stove, your pain receptors send a signal to your brain in a split second,” Purvis said. “My understanding is that you don’t have pain receptors in that part of your eyes, so you don’t feel the damage until later.

“Wear your eclipse glasses. If you have a welder’s mask, you can use that, too. You know it’s suitable if you put it on and can’t see anything.”

Purvis said to be careful about eclipse glasses. The American Astronomy Society keeps a list of suppliers of safe solar-viewing glasses and viewers. (Look on the inside of glasses and viewers to confirm the safety standard: ISO 12312-2.)

People can also see the eclipse using a pinhole projector. Purvis said you can use a colander or interlace your fingers, stand with the sun at your back, and lift the projector, colander or your fingers up and let the light shine through the openings. When you look at the ground, you’ll see an image of the eclipse projected. If you’re standing near a tree, look at the ground to see naturally-occurring projections by the hundreds.

For families and enthusiasts who plan to make a day of the solar eclipse, Purvis said to wear sunscreen and bring water, sunglasses and a hat. Weather for the eclipse is expected to be good, but there is a good chance the temperature will be warm and the day could be sunny.

While no one will be around to see the next total solar eclipse, which won’t happen for another 200 years, Purvis said there will come a day when there will never be another solar eclipse.

“The moon is actually drifting away from the Earth,” Purvis said. “Every year, its orbit gets a little bit bigger. It moves a little bit farther away. And so there will be a point in human history where there are no more total eclipses.”

To learn more about UNT’s programming ahead of and on the day of the solar eclipse, check out their eclipse page.