In the latest installment of our news experiment, we wanted to know what you've been wondering about the August 21 solar eclipse in Idaho. We got a lot of great questions, and because this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, Samantha Wright decided to answer all 17 of them.
We start off with Lucy Price from Boise. She works near Ann Morrison Park and will be on the job the morning of the eclipse. So naturally, she wants to know how eclipse viewing will be in Boise.
1. From Boise, what position in the sky will the eclipse be? Will we be able to see it from town? Asked by Lucy Price from Boise.
“From Boise, we will definitely be able to see the eclipse, assuming it is clear that day, assuming that it is not cloudy,” says Brian Jackson, physics professor at Boise State University. “And so if you want to get a sense of where the sun is going to be during the eclipse, go outside and see where the sun is at about 10 o’clock in the morning. The sun will be about in the same place on August 21.”
2. What percent of the full eclipse will we see in Boise? Is it worth the drive and dealing with congestion? Asked by John from Kuna.
“Boise is not technically in the path of totality,” says Jackson, “which means we will not see a total eclipse from Boise. But we are very close to the path of totality and that means we will see a very nearly total eclipse. It will be 99.555 percent total in Boise. That means the sun will be about 200,000 times darker than it usually is and the sky will be about as dark as it is at twilight. So it will definitely be a very noticeable effect here in Boise.”
3. What will you see/experience if you were in downtown Boise? Will it get dark? For how long? Asked by Marie in Boise.
“In Boise it will be noticeably dark for a few minutes,” says Brian Jackson, “it kind of depends on how sensitive your eyes are really, as to whether or not you can tell how dark it is, but you will definitely notice it.”
4. Will there be visible partial eclipses on the days prior to the total eclipse? Asked by Jason in Boise.
“No. The moon and the sun are actually really small in the sky and they only align right during the eclipse,” says Jackson. “They’ll get very close to each other in the days leading up to the eclipse but they won’t actually pass in front of one another at all until the day of the eclipse.”
5. What biblical or legendary stories are believed to hold their "genesis" from total eclipse events of history? Asked by Betsy in Boise.
“There is a very interesting story about a confrontation between Columbus and some of the native tribes in the Caribbean. He was getting help from those natives and he was paying them in goods. At some point Columbus and his crew ran out of things to pay the locals and the locals started to refuse to help. So Columbus had an almanac that reported a lunar eclipse would occur soon. He threatened the natives that if they didn’t help him that his God would cause a darkening of the moon and of course it happened, and it scared all the natives and they were willing to continue helping him in spite of the fact he wasn’t paying them anymore,” says Jackson.
“There’s also a recent study which looks at the Battle of Jericho. There’s a report in the bible about the battle of Jericho saying that Joshua made the sun stand still in the sky. This report suggests that this translation that we have in most bibles is actually inaccurate and this description is of a solar eclipse. So the study finds that if indeed this is the description of a solar eclipse, then the Battle of Jericho, if it happened, would have occurred on October 30, 1207 B.C. at about 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon because astronomers can date eclipses very, very accurately. We can actually use historical reports of eclipses to date important historical events. So this may be an example of something we can use astronomy to work out the date and time for,” says Jackson.
6. What is it about an eclipse that requires people to wear special solar glasses but at any other times without an eclipse not need them? Asked by Rick in Meridian.
“Anytime you want to look at the sun, whether it’s during an eclipse, or when it’s not during an eclipse, you need special filters to look at the sun without damaging your eyes. Looking at the sun at anytime, without proper protection, is dangerous,” says Jackson. “If folks want to observe the eclipse, they want to make sure they have eclipse shades to observe it safely.”
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has this video on how to watch the eclipse safely:
7. Will the eclipse hurt my pets' eyes? Asked by Cynthia in Boise.
“Staring at the eclipse, either a person or an animal, will damage their eyes, but most animals are not inclined to look at the eclipse. Reports are that most animals figure that it's nighttime and so when the sky goes dark your animals will probably just figure that it’s night. Odds are your animals will just be confused by that two minutes of darkness, so their eyes are unlikely to be damaged. If you’re really worried about your pet, the best advice is just to keep them indoors,” says Jackson.
“I’ve been asked this question a lot: How do animals react to the eclipse? Most of the time, animals just think it’s night,” Jackson says. “For the few minutes while it’s dark, they sort of begin to bed down and when the sun emerges again from behind the moon, they’re a little bit confused but they mostly just sort of get on with the rest of the day. There is an interesting study which looks at chimpanzees at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Georgia. During the total eclipse that passed over Georgia, these chimpanzees clearly registered that something had happened and there were reports of some of the chimpanzees actually pointing at the sun during the eclipse, so they understood that something had happened. But after the eclipse ended, they mostly just went back to what they were doing, grazing and grooming. So it shouldn’t have any adverse effects on animals and mostly they seem to recover from the eclipse.”
8. Do astronomers expect to learn anything new and important from this eclipse, or is the science of the solar eclipse already well understood? Asked by Karen in Parma.
“Astronomers have understood for a long time the timing and position of eclipse tracks on the surface of the earth, so we’ve been able to make eclipse predictions going back hundreds and even thousands of years,” Jackson says. “But there are still a lot of important studies that can be conducted during the eclipse. One of the most noteworthy projects during this upcoming eclipse is the Citizen CATE Project. It will outfit 70 different sites along the path of totality with cameras and telescopes, which will record the eclipse. The project will string together all the short videos of eclipses to make a 90-minute eclipse video. And scientists can use data from the project to study the outermost envelope of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, the part of the sun that is usually invisible, but during the eclipse the moon blocks out the brightest of the sun and that reveals the corona which we can then study from the ground.”
If you don't have eclipse glasses, you can make your own viewer, thanks to NASA Goddard:
9. What eminent astronomers and other famous people are coming to Idaho to view the eclipse, and where do they plan to observe it? Asked by Karen in Parma.
“The person in charge of the Citizen CATE experiment, Dr. Matt Penn, is going to come up to Idaho, so he’ll be in the path of totality,” says Jackson. “I know there’s going to be a big festival out in Oregon that will attract the likes of Ira Flatow from Science Friday [on NPR]. Lots of folks will be here, I don’t know everyone who will be here, but we should expect large crowds. During the week of the eclipse, Boise State is hosting a large astronomy campus. So we will have extra solar planetary astronomers coming to Boise State from around the world. And if folks want to meet some of those astronomers, we’re going to have a public reception for that conference on Sunday, August 20 [at 7 p.m. at the Student Union Building], so folks can rub elbows with some of the world’s eminent exoplanet astronomers. They will also drive up to the path of totality to observe the eclipse.”
10. I live in Donnelly, ID. Is it best to view the eclipse from something like a meadow or lake in the long valley, or, from a mountain peak? Asked by Karen in Donnelly.
“You just want to be somewhere you can see the sun,” says Jackson. “I would probably recommend against going into a valley because you’re more likely to lose sight of the sun in a deep valley. If you can get to the top of a mountain, you might be able to see the shadow of the moon come rushing in at a 1,000 miles an hour from the west. But really anywhere you can see the sun on that day will be a good place to look at it.”
11. Where would be a good place to watch the eclipse, if I haven't secured one by now? Asked by Lani in Boise.
“You want to get to the path of totality if you can,” says Jackson. “If you want to observe the total solar eclipse you’re going to want to head a little bit north of Boise. I don’t want to give any specific recommendations because I don’t want to flood any town with folks, but be sure to make plans. Be sure you know where you’re going, where you’re going to park, anticipate a lot of traffic getting up to the path of totality. There’s a good chance you’ll get stuck going to the eclipse and coming back, especially coming back. Odds are if you think you’ve found a secret little spot that no one else has found yet, chances are that someone else has already found it. So basically anywhere you plan to go in the path of totality, anticipate traffic and lots of people.”
12. How will Idaho highway districts, Forest Service, etc. control traffic the morning of the eclipse when locals head to the zone of totality? Asked by Karen in Parma.
“Construction will be halted on the day of the eclipse and there will be no maintenance occurring,” says Jennifer Gonzalez with the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise. “All of our crews will be out. We will be monitoring various areas along the state highway system, and ensuring that we can keep the roads open the best that we can. However, it does fall to motorists to expect potential delays because of the eclipse.”
Gonzalez suggests checking Idaho's 511 website for traffic, and fire, updates during your eclipse travels.
13. Can professionals guesstimate about eclipse traffic on Idaho's interior roads - most of which are two-lane? When is best time to travel? Asked by Earl in Twin Falls.
“We have not seen any type of eclipse like this,” says Gonzalez. “In order to accommodate our current population as well as potential visitors for this event, we are encouraging anyone who plans to hit the road to please plan ahead, be responsible, slow down, know your route, because we just don’t know how many vehicles will be on the road. It’s not just going to be you on the road, it may be you and thousands upon thousands of other visitors. But as far as an exact number, we don’t know, other agencies, they don’t know either. We’re just going to have to plan accordingly to accommodate safely potential visitors to the state of Idaho.”
“With the increased traffic,” says Gonzalez, “we strongly discourage people from stopping on the side of the highway [to watch the eclipse]. There is no camping allowed on the side of the road. It is for the safety for yourself and other travelers. It increases the risk of a potential crash with other vehicles on the road.”
Meanwhile, organizers of the eclipse festival in Weiser are advising NOT traveling to the town from Boise at 9 a.m. on the day of the eclipse because traffic will back up on Highway 95, which is a two-lane road. It will take longer than the regular two hours to get there on August 21. They’re advising coming a day or two before, if you have somewhere to stay, so you don’t hit last-minute traffic. Gonzalez agrees. She says have a plan and don’t just wake up Monday, August 21 and decide to start driving without a destination in mind. She also advises not traveling home from the eclipse until Tuesday, when traffic has eased up. She has more tips in the video below:
14. What will traffic be like on Hwy 55 between McCall and Boise? Unsure whether to watch in Donnelly or drive to Boise so I'm not stuck, asks Lori in Boise.
“There is just no way to know,” says Gonzalez. “What we are hearing from our partner agencies is that after the eclipse ends, there is talk that there is going to be a mass exodus from these various locations back to Boise and other points. We know what Sunday’s are like during the summer on that route. It’s very heavy as folks return from McCall to Boise. We can likely expect that, times a good percentage more, just due to the vast number of people who are wanting to go to Smiths Ferry, Donnelly, Crouch, McCall, etc.”
Gonzalez adds it’s hard to get cell service on parts of Highway 55, so factor that into your plans.
15. When did Idaho become aware this was going to be a big deal for the state and is there a coordinated effort or are towns on their own? Asked by Meg in Boise.
“No, there is most definitely a coordinated effort,” says Megan Ronk, the Director of the Idaho Commerce Department. “Our team at Commerce and through our Tourism staff became aware of this significant event well over a year ago. Our team has been working closely with the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and a number of other partners, including the hospital association, Department of Health and Welfare, Transportation, the Idaho National Guard, State Police, Bureau of Land Management and many others to ensure that we’re actively out there communicating with our communities to ensure that the eclipse is a successful event.”
16. What is the state anticipating in terms of travelers from outside of the state and what is the best viewing location? Asked by Katie in Meridian.
“It’s always a little bit difficult to project but the best information that we have is through a nationwide entity called the GreatAmericanEclipse.com which has anticipated that Idaho could see anywhere from around 100,000 visitors to about 370,000 visitors coming into Idaho specifically to see the eclipse,” says Ronk. “And the eclipse will enter the state in Washington County near Weiser and then cross the entire state and exit out in Teton County near Driggs. While there are many wonderful locations across that path, we’re hearing a lot of interest in places such as Crouch and Garden Valley, Cascade, Kelly’s Whitewater Park, St. Anthony and Weiser, and I think Mt. Borah will also be a great destination as well. Just keep in mind many of those popular sites could be highly trafficked and very busy. Be prepared with adequate food and water supplies, fuel, have your gas tank filled up and be prepared to be patient, there could be road delays.”
17. Who calculates the estimated economic benefits of the eclipse on Idaho, and how do they do it? Asked by Jared of Boise.
“It’s a bit tricky because it’s a unique event,” says Ronk. “The best information we have is based on a study that we commissioned through our Idaho Tourism team in 2015. We generally found out that the average overnight leisure traveler that comes into Idaho spends about $118 per day, per person. We think the impact will be significant but we won’t fully understand and appreciate that impact until after the event.”
This story is part of our listener-generated project at KBSX where we ask you – our listeners – what you’re curious about in the region. Got something on your mind about Idaho? Ask your question below!
Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio
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