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What eclipse watchers should expect on April 8


In a little over a week, a total solar eclipse will trace an arc across North America. In that narrow path, the skies will completely darken. Temperatures will drop. It'll feel like the dead of night during the middle of the day. If you're traveling to witness this rare event, Life Kit's Regina Barber has tips on what to expect.

REGINA BARBER, BYLINE: Science writer David Baron says seeing a total solar eclipse is the closest thing to space travel you can experience without leaving Earth.

DAVID BARON: It's like, for a few minutes, you are suddenly transported to some alien world. It's like you're living in some sci-fi movie, seeing a sky you've never seen, seeing the universe in a whole new way. It really can change your outlook for years to come, if not the rest of your life.

BARBER: Baron saw his first solar eclipse in 1998, and he's been hooked ever since.

BARRON: An umbraphile is a fancy word for what I am, and that's an eclipse chaser. It just - it means a shadow lover, and that's what I am. I love being in the shadow of the moon.

BARBER: Over the years, Baron has witnessed eight total solar eclipses on five different continents. And he says, if you want to see one for yourself, you really do need to travel.

BARRON: Because if you wait for a total eclipse to come to you, you're probably going to wait for longer than your lifetime, because any given point on Earth sees a total eclipse about once every 400 years. This is the most convenient total eclipse you're probably going to have in the United States for 20 years.

BARBER: Next week, the path of totality, or the narrow track where the moon's shadow blocks out the sun, will stretch across 13 U.S. states from Texas up through Maine, putting the eclipse in driving distance for many of us. Baron will be headed to Waco, Texas, next Monday. Like many eclipse chasers, he's planned his trip way in advance. But for anyone operating a bit more last minute...

BARRON: If you haven't made any plans yet, you are late. But no, you are absolutely not too late. You're not too late until totality sets in. You could just decide to hit the road at midnight and drive 10 hours to get into the path of totality.

BARBER: But if you want to chase the eclipse, Baron says you have to commit.

BARRON: If you're in an area where you're seeing a 99% partial eclipse, it is not at all the same. Drive those few miles. Get into the path of totality.

BARBER: Because the difference between seen a 99% partial eclipse and being within the path of totality is literally night and day.

BARRON: So a partial solar eclipse is a very interesting experience. The sun will become a crescent like the moon. You can only look at it, of course, with eye protection. Don't look at it with the naked eye.

BARBER: You'll need a reputable pair of eclipse glasses to see the effect. You can find those online for a couple bucks.

BARRON: A total eclipse is a fundamentally different experience because it's only when the moon completely blocks the sun that you can actually take off the eclipse glasses and look with the naked eye at the sun. That bright surface is gone. And what you're actually looking at is the sun's outer atmosphere, which is called the solar corona. And it's this beautiful, textured thing. It's like it's made out of tinsel or strands of silk. It's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen in the heavens. And you will only see that if you're in the path of the total eclipse.

BARBER: The main event will only last a few minutes, depending on your position within that path of totality. And when it's over, Baron says be prepared for a big surge of traffic getting home. It's a lot of effort for a short window, but Baron assures me it's worth it.

BARRON: I don't know anyone who's seen a total eclipse who hasn't been bowled over by it and hasn't been grateful that they were encouraged to go see it.

BARBER: I'll be driving to Buffalo with my daughter and partner to make Baron proud. Here's hoping for good weather. For NPR's LIFE KIT, I'm Regina Barber.

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