Once In A Lifetime Event

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Total Solar Eclipse April 8, 2024

Article Contributed by

Martz-Kohl Astronomical Observatory

Five months from now, an exceptionally rare and spectacular event will occur in our region. It is due to get here on Monday, April 8th at 3:18 in the afternoon. In fact, over last 4,500 years this area has seen such an event only 21 times—an average of only once every 214 years. It is a total eclipse of the sun.

A Narrow Path

The skies will darken as the Moon moves between Earth and the Sun. Along a narrow path only 100 miles wide—the “path of totality”—crossing North America from Mexico to Canada, the Moon’s shadow will race across the Earth’s surface. This year, Chautauqua County lies on that path. Daytime will turn dramatically into dark evening twilight.

This Moon-Sun alignment does not happen every month, though once or twice a year it comes close. The Moon’s elliptical orbit is tilted–not perfectly aligned between Earth and Sun—so the Moon’s shadow rarely falls on the Earth, and even more rarely on this location.

For most local people this will be a once in a lifetime experience. This is the first total solar eclipse the area has seen since June 16, 1806. There will not be another one until October 26, 2144.

This time, the shadow’s southern ledge will pass just south of Titusville and Warren PA, and the northern edge will just graze Olean NY’s northern outskirts, each for only 45-50 seconds of totality. The center of the Moon’s shadow, however, will cross Lake Erie and reach a point a bit south of Buffalo, producing 3 minutes 40 seconds of totality. The Moon’s shadow will pass over Jamestown for 2 minutes 53 seconds.

A Dangerous Beauty

Since this event involves looking at the Sun, the staff at Martz-Kohl Observatory in Frewsburg, NY, issue a warning to use proper protection from the Sun’s light both before and after the Moon’s total coverage of the Sun’s surface. The smallest amount of full or even partial sunlight can be focused into a burning dot by the eye’s lens, irreversibly burning the retina, and potentially causing blindness.

Sunglasses will not protect a viewer’s eyes from damage. Only ISO Certified solar eclipse glasses or eclipse-viewers can protect vision up to and after totality. Such glasses can be purchased at the observatory any Wednesday evening and from many local merchants.

During the time when the Moon totally covers the sun, however, viewers can safely remove the glasses and enjoy the spectacle. Just be sure to put them back on before the moon starts uncovering the sun.

Beyond the Eclipse

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, that crossed a different part of the U.S., including many Western and Southern states, caused extreme local traffic congestion for the entire day. As a result, emergency response teams in Chautauqua County advise gassing up cars and food shopping ahead of time. Simply stay home on Monday, August 8, 2024, and watch the event from there. Tourists will be overwhelming the roads, stores, and restaurants.

All regional schools will be closed on Monday, April 8. Student bussing will be intentionally grounded for safety reasons—both for students and to help relieve traffic in favor of emergency vehicles and responders if and when they are called out.

At the Martz-Kohl Observatory during the partial solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, more than 900 people were on hand to observe the eclipse. During the 2024 solar eclipse, however, the staff at Martz-Kohl are asking the public to not come up to the observatory. Parking is limited and the narrow, 2-lane road is too easily obstructed by roadside parking. Local farm trucks need to move milk and emergency crews and police need open roads.

On Site Event Invitation

The observatory will present a special Eclipse Program at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 21, 2024. The presenter will be Tom Traub of Warren, PA, a long-time member of the Martz-Kohl Observatory and a certified NASA Ambassador. Jamestown Gazette readers who wish to know more about this or the April 8 eclipse are invited to call the Martz-Kohl Observatory at 716-569-3689, or visit the Observatory’s website at www.martzobservatory.org.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.