Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Get Ready for the Eclipse

Northwestern astronomers prepare for rare astronomical event

By Daniel P. Smith 

For most people in the continental United States, Aug. 21, 2017 will be a day unlike any other.

The moon will completely cover the bright surface of the sun, leaving only the sun’s diaphanous outer corona to surround the black orb and cast a large shadow upon the Earth.

That day, the moon’s shadow will come ashore in Oregon before cutting southeast across America’s heartland, including Illinois’ southern tip, on a diagonal line toward the shores of South Carolina. Such a far-reaching total solar eclipse has not spanned the continental United States in 99 years.

“This is generating so much excitement because the vast majority of the U.S. population is within a couple hundred miles of the path of totality,” says Northwestern astronomy professor David Meyer, noting that researchers with Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics have been spotlighting the upcoming astronomical event at campus and public venues, including Chicago area libraries.  

On Aug. 21, many CIERA researchers — faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students alike — will travel to spots across the U.S. to study the eclipse along its path of totality. A number of them, including Meyer, are headed to various spots in downstate Illinois.

“Anyone who’s ever seen a total solar eclipse will say they’ve never seen anything like it,” says Meyer. “There is no other astronomical event we could see on Earth that even compares to this.”

The view from Evanston

While the moon will completely cover the sun only along the path of totality, located about 350 miles south of the Evanston campus, those in the Chicago area will get to see a partial eclipse with about 87 percent of the sun being covered by the moon at 1:20 p.m.

“If you’re living your daily life outside, the earth might look a little different than usual at this time,” Meyer says.

The best way to experience the partial eclipse is to look at the dappled light streaming through trees, which will produce tiny illuminated crescents on the sidewalk.

“That’s by far the coolest effect you’ll see in Chicago,” Meyer says, stressing that individuals should not look at the sun with their naked eye or even sunglasses.

For those interested in a more direct viewing of the partial eclipse, CIERA researchers suggest purchasing special eclipse glasses at a local science museum or from an online telescope dealer, or tuning into NASA’s live stream.

Download this CIERA-produced field guide to learn more about the eclipse and how to watch it via projection.

Back to top