Did you know that in less than 12 weeks North America will experience a total eclipse of the sun? This exciting event, which NASA refers to as “a rare celestial event,” takes place on August 21, 2017. With school still out in most places, this falls during prime summer vacation season, and we already have plans for a Caribbean cruise during that same time period. Ever since my kids figured out that we would be away during the 2017 eclipse, they have peppered me with questions on whether we will still be able to see the eclipse when we are on a ship. It seems like now is a good time to try and figure that out.
What to Expect from a Total Solar Eclipse
What is a total solar eclipse? An eclipse occurs when the moon, sun, and earth align. During this type of eclipse, the moon is in between the sun and the earth, blocking the sun’s light from reaching earth as strongly as usual. When this happens, daylight dims and it seems like dusk, right in the middle of the day.
While partial eclipses are pretty common—most years see at least two of them—total solar eclipses are rare.
The solar eclipse happening in August of 2017 will be visible from the United States, but it will not be visible everywhere on earth. So, what about the Caribbean?
The 2017 Eclipse in the Caribbean
It turns out that while the 2017 Eclipse will be viewable throughout the Caribbean, it will not appear as a total eclipse. Nevertheless, it should still be exciting. According to Lisa Burnett, scientist and astronomy columnist at St. Maarten’s The Daily Herald, the last solar eclipse generated so much interest that people took the day off to view it. She says, “Many of the schools closed then because so many of the families wanted to view it together.”
The precise percentage of the eclipse that will be visible in different parts of the Caribbean varies from place to place. About half of the sun will appear to be blocked out from the perspective of viewers in the Leeward Dutch Caribbean—islands such as Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, and St. Maarten. In contrast, the Windward Islands (e.g., Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada) will be able to see only a bare sliver of sunlight peeking out from behind the moon’s shadow.
To see a map tracing the anticipated course of the eclipse over the course of the day, go here.
The eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2007, will last about two and a half hours. In Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao, the eclipse will last from about 2:30 to 5:00. The best time to see it is 3:41 pm. This is also the time you can view the eclipse if you are in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Maarten and its surrounding islands. Haiti will see the eclipse from 2:00 to 4:40, and Cuba can view it from 1:30 to 4:15. In Jamaica, it will be visible from about 12:50 to 3:34. There are different time zones across the Caribbean, and all of these times are stated in local time (not ship time).
Safe Methods For Viewing the 2017 Eclipse
It is unsafe to look directly at the sun, even when partially eclipsed. And, according to the experts, ordinary sunglasses do not offer sufficient protection. So how can you view the eclipse safely? There are many ways to do this, but one fun, simple method is to make your own pinhole projector.
To make the projector, you only need two pieces of stiff paper or thin cardboard. Paper plates work well. You’ll also need a tack or a needle, which can be easily obtained from travel kits, if you’re on the go. Many hotels and cruise ships offer small sewing kits. Poke a small hole in one of your papers, which will act as the projector.
Next, turn your back to the sun and allow it to shine through the hole. Then, hold the other piece of paper directly in front of the first piece to act as a screen. You’ll have to hold it at a distance and probably adjust it a bit to get it right, but before long, you’ll be able to see the inverted image of the sun on your screen! You’ll also be able to see the shadow of the moon over the sun, which should be the coolest part of all.
If you allow some time to plan ahead, you can also download a 3D printable pinhole projector in the shape of your state. Download available here.
You can also order purchase special eclipse viewing glasses. These contain filters not found in everyday sunglasses. You can find are links to different options here, here, and here. (Please note that we are not affiliated with any of these sites, and we won’t receive any compensation. This is purely for your information.))
NASA has developed an official Eclipse Kit. It contains numerous fun and educational STEM activities for families, community groups and youth organizations. The kit includes an activity guide and identifies many other online extension resources. Check it out here.
So, what will you be doing on Eclipse Day? Please share in the comments below.