October 2023

September 29, 2023 Posted by: Rich Fefferman


As many of you know, I have a long-term hobby of viewing total eclipses of the Sun.   I have had four successes in five attempts to see them- from Mexico in 1991, Zambia in 2001, Australia in 2002, and Wyoming in 2017.  I have been clouded out one time- in England on August 11, 1999, but it was still cool to see it get very dark and to see the street- lights turn on the middle of an already gloomy British day.  I am looking forward to the total eclipse next April 8.  It will be total from just thirty miles from St. Louis, but I have made plans to go to Texas, where the weather prospects are better. 

Solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun.  Of course it more or less does this every month, when we call it New Moon, but due to the Moon’s tipped orbit, it usually passes above or below the plane of the ecliptic, the exact line between the Earth and Sun.  That is why there is not an eclipse of the Sun or moon every month.  Only when the Moon is passing through the node of its orbit (the plane between Earth and Sun) at the same time as it is between them can there be an eclipse.  If the alignment is perfect enough, there can be a total eclipse of the Sun, as we will see in about six months. 

Sometimes, this alignment occurs when the Moon is close to its farthest point from Earth and it does not appear large enough to cover the entire Sun.  This produces an annular eclipse, in which a ring (annulus) of bright Sun surrounds the dark disk of the Moon.  This is a cool event, and I was lucky enough to see one of them on May 10, 1994.  However, the bright ring of fire, as it is sometimes called, is way too bright to allow most of the cool effects of totality- dusk like darkness in the middle of the day, a sharp drop in temperature, and the beautiful corona- to be seen.  I might travel a few hundred miles to see an annular eclipse but have no interest in going halfway across the continent or across the world for what is basically a special type of partial eclipse of the Sun, of which I have seen quite a few.  It is in the category of very cool- definitely worth a look, but not awesome.  Similarly, a lunar eclipse, also known as the “Blood Moon,” caused by the Earth casting its shadow on the Moon, is a pretty common event and impressive to see, but far short of a total eclipse of the Sun. 

As you can see from the map below, cities like Eugene OR, Albuquerque NM, and San Antonio TX are favored to see the annular eclipse, while St. Louis gets a nice partial view on October 14.   The moon will take the first “bite” out of the Sun at 10:26 am, with just over half of our star obscured just before noon.  The eclipse will end at 1:25 pm.   Since this eclipse will not be total, IT WILL NOT BE SAFE TO VIEW THE SUN AT ANY TIME, UNLESS YOU USE ECLIPSE GLASSES OR A PROPERLY FILTERED TELESCOPE OR BINOCULARS.  These filters block out more than 99.99% of the Sun’s light.  The way to properly use solar glasses is to look down, put them on, and then look up at the Sun.  The chances are that your local Science Center or observatory (also Gateway Arch National Park) will provide eclipse glasses for safe naked eye viewing, and of they are widely available online.  You may also make a “pinhole camera” by punching a tiny hole in a piece of cardboard and projecting the image on to a piece of white paper.  The image gets larger but dimmer and blurrier as the cardboard and white paper get farther and farther apart.  If you can position yourself so that the Sun shines through the branches of a tree, you may see numerous tiny crescents shining through.  You can even try the view though your trusty plastic kitchen colander, if it has small enough holes, before cooking your pasta for dinner!   You can send me any successful images you take by e-mailing me at richard_fefferman@nps.gov.  All this is cool in and of itself, but also great practice for “the big one” coming April 8th.   

Are you coming to the Arch on October 14?  Join us for the partial solar eclipse from our Entrance Plaza.  Free solar glasses and at least one filtered telescope will be available for safe viewing of the eclipse from 10:30 am-1:30 pm, if skies are clear enough to see the Sun.  Children from 4-12 can fill out the Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer booklet and receive a free badge.      

On October 27, a sunset Ranger program called “Ghosts of the Arch Grounds” will be held on the Entrance Plaza at 6:30 pm, discussing the various “incarnations” of the area as it evolved from a French-style trading post to a warehouse district and then to the present Gateway Arch National Park, as well as some of the trials and tribulations of the people of the area.  Weather permitting, free telescope viewing will follow on the Plaza.  Both of these programs are subject to weather and staffing constraints beyond our control. 


Caption:  Path of the Annular Eclipse of the Sun, October 14, 2023.  Areas outside of the narrow path see only a partial eclipse.   Since the Sun will not be completely covered from anywhere, you must protect your eyes at all times (see above).  Courtesy of greatamericaneclipse.org. 

ALT TEXT:  Map showing path of annular eclipse, October 14, 2023. 

Map of annular eclipse October 14
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CAPTION:  The view at maximum eclipse in St. Louis on October 14 will resemble this image, taken by our Sky Ranger before totality from Wyoming on August 21, 2017.  ALT TEXT:  The Sun forms a crescent shape during an eclipse. 

Last updated: September 29, 2023

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