BOZEMAN — Angela Des Jardins has worked for more than three years to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she wants to share with as many folks as possible — the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
“If you don’t do it, you might really regret it later,” Des Jardins said.
Des Jardins is the director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University in Bozeman. In that role she has helped to coordinate the Eclipse Ballooning Project, in which 55 teams from across the country will capture the first aerial video of the eclipse from high-altitude balloons and live-stream the footage to NASA’s website.
So even if you can’t take time off from work to drive to nearby Wyoming or Idaho to view the eclipse in person, Des Jardins and her ballooning crew has your back. Even if you miss that, you can always watch it later.
“We’re going to be recording everything,” she said.
During a total solar eclipse, the moon aligns perfectly with the sun and obscures it entirely, but only within a 70-mile wide path. On Aug. 21 that path will cruise from Oregon to South Carolina. During the eclipse the moon will completely block the sun for about two minutes, producing the most dramatic effect.
NASA calls it “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.”
The last total solar eclipse that was visible from the contiguous United States occurred on Feb. 26, 1979.
“It’s kind of a deep twilight, with basically a 360-degree sunset,” Des Jardins said. “Some of the brightest stars will come out.”
The sun’s violent atmosphere, called the corona, will become visible as a ring around the moon, “which is an amazing thing to be able to see.”
The next total solar eclipses won’t take place until 2024 and 2045. Recognizing the rarity of the event, folks have booked up motel rooms and Airbnbs months, if not years, in advance. Any rooms still available are going for outrageously high prices. In Jackson, Wyoming, the Snow King Resort is renting out indoor camping spots in an attempt to accommodate additional visitors since the mountain resort town is in the path of totality.
Driving to the dark
If you are game for a drive, there are plenty of spots along the eclipse’s path to view the event. Public lands abound in Wyoming and Idaho and maps can give you a rough idea of where to go.
You have to take precautions, though. Don't look at the eclipse with your sunglasses. That can cause permanent eye damage. Looking at the eclipse through your camera can ruin it. It is OK, however, to look at the eclipse or photograph it during the “moment of totality,” that period when the moon completely blocks the sun.
Glasses to view the eclipse are inexpensive and available online. It’s important to purchase glasses that comply with international safety standard ISO 12312-2, Des Jardins said. Don't look through a telescope or binoculars with those glasses on, though, as those magnifying devices will concentrate the sun's rays. Information about obtaining free glasses at MSU can be found at www.coe.montana.edu/eclipse/viewing.html.
If you are in the Bozeman area, where viewers will see a partial eclipse in which the moon will obscure 95 percent of the sun, it will be necessary to wear protective glasses during the entire eclipse. Starting at 10 a.m. on Aug. 21 in front of the MSU Library, members of the MSU Physics Department will distribute glasses and will also have solar telescopes and other special viewing equipment. In Bozeman the partial eclipse will begin at roughly 10 a.m. and will peak at 11:36 a.m.
The path of totality includes a tiny and remote corner of southwestern Montana, as well as Idaho Falls and Rexburg in Idaho and Jackson, Thermopolis and Casper in Wyoming. If you go, be prepared for crowds and traffic and bring plenty of water and food, Des Jardins said. Cellphone service may be temporarily unavailable due to high demand.
If driving and crowds don’t sound fun, check out the aerial video that MSU and 54 other teams will livestream using high-altitude balloons. They will all launch helium-filled balloons to carry cameras to an altitude of more than 80,000 feet to capture the video.
“It’s a space-like perspective,” said Des Jardins, who initiated the project in 2014. “From that height you can see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space.
“You’ll get to feel like you’re looking down on planet Earth,” she said. “It will invoke wonder and curiosity about what’s happening, the special alignment that has to happen for the shadow to move across the Earth.”
The video from all the teams will be livestreamed to NASA’s website. During the eclipse, the MSU homepage will link to a livestream transmitted from one of the MSU team’s three balloons, which the team will launch from the Rexburg, Idaho, area.
The livestream is meant to complement viewing the eclipse directly, not replace the experience, Des Jardins said. She recommends viewing the livestream during the hour before or after the local peak of the eclipse. Teams will be livestreaming from more than a dozen balloons in Oregon and Idaho before the eclipse peaks in Bozeman.
The Museum of the Rockies will show the Eclipse Ballooning Project livestream at the Taylor Planetarium. Doors open at 10 a.m. and normal admission charges apply. Eclipse glasses will also be available for purchase.
Get to it
Regardless of how or where people view the eclipse, Des Jardins is encouraging everyone to take the time to experience the extraordinary happening.
“There will be something special about seeing it with your own two eyes,” she said, “but there will also be something pretty profound about seeing those images looking down on the planet.”