August guide to the New Orleans sky: A meteor shower and an eclipse!

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NEW ORLEANS – The month of August is heating up, and we’re not talking about the temperature. Instead, two events are headed to the skies that will certainly turn heads across the region.

First up is the Perseid Meteor Shower, an annual event that is known for its streaking fireballs across the night sky. While a typical Perseid peak can have up to 80 meteors per hour, unfortunately the waxing moon will be bright enough to block the light of some of the meteors. Worry not! If you can get away from the city lights and keep the moon to your back, you can expect to see 40-50 meteors near dawn at the peak of the Perseids: the mornings of August 12 and 13.

While the moon may dampen the Perseids this year, it will be the star of the show come August 21! That’s when the Great American Eclipse, as it’s being called, will be front and center during the afternoon sky.

While the path of totality, a 90-mile wide swath where the shadow cast from the moon lining up exactly with the sun, won’t pass over Louisiana or Mississippi, you will still be able to take in the partial solar eclipse. That’s because the penumbra, the partial shadow from the event, will pass over our area.

You will need to have special viewing glasses or lenses to enjoy the partial eclipse. Unlike the umbra, or the path of totality, NO PART of a partial eclipse is safe to view with the naked eye.

So when can you expect the moon’s shadow to cross over our area? The moon will first appear to touch the edge of the sun at 12:57 p.m. Central time.

From that point on, the moon will gradually cover up more and more of the sun until 2:29 p.m., the maximum eclipse time for our area.

At this time, 75 percent of the sun’s surface will appear to be covered up by the moon. You may notice a slight dimming of the sky, however, it won’t be anywhere near as dark as the path of totality to our north. After 2:29 p.m., the moon will move away from the sun until 3:57 p.m. when the eclipse will end.

Should you want to see the solar eclipse in totality, you’re going to have to travel at least 8 hours by car. The fastest path to totality will be up Interstate 59 into Tennessee (roughly 8 hours by driving) or up Interstate 55 to St. Louis (roughly 9 hours by driving).

Be warned, most of the hotel rooms in the path of totality have already been booked, and with 200 million Americans living within a one day’s drive to the path of totality, some experts are warning that August 21 could be the busiest travel day of the year on our country’s highway system. Expect travel times to double around the path of totality.

Whether you’re able to see a full on total solar eclipse or a partial eclipse here along the Gulf Coast, you will need to take proper precautions.

NEVER look directly at the sun! The only exception to this is the few brief minutes in the path of totality when the moon is completely covering the sun. Since the Gulf Coast will not experience a total eclipse, it will not be safe to view the sun with the naked eye AT ANY TIME during the eclipse. You will need approved safety glasses or lenses. The lenses are:

  • ISO Certified with the international code: 123122
  • Have the manufacturer logo & address on the side
  • Less than 3 years old
  • Are in perfect condition (i.e. no scratches, bending or other damage which negates the effectiveness)

Also keep in mind if you are going to photograph or take video of the eclipse that you will need a special lens for your camera. Not only are the sun’s rays damaging to your eyes, but the will damage sensitive camera sensors as well, including those in your smart phone.

So take the proper precautions and view this amazing solar phenomenon. The next total solar eclipse in the United States won’t take place until April 8, 2024.

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