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The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, Service Dogs, and You

Everyone is talking about the upcoming eclipse, but for many people, there are lots of questions left unanswered. What’s going to happen during the eclipse? How can you prepare for the eclipse? Are there any special considerations for people with a disability? How will the eclipse affect your Service Dog? Does your location alter the type of planning you should do? Learn the answers to all of these questions and more.

Note: This article covers the entirety of the Great American Eclipse, including the technical stuff, what’s happening, what you can expect, what it affects, who it affects, etc. If you want to skip the eclipse science, definitions, and explanations and go directly to the Service Dog section, click here.

What’s the Great American Eclipse?

On August 21st, 2017, a total solar eclipse will dazzle skywatchers across the country. The moon’s orbit will overlap the sun’s orbit perfectly, covering the sun bit by bit as it moves across the sky. Since the sun is behind the moon, the moon’s shadow gets splashed across Earth. The moon is rather large (6,783.5 miles around, in fact), so the resulting shadow covers a lot of ground. That’s part of what makes this particular eclipse so exciting and one of the reasons it’s been dubbed the “Great American Eclipse” (GAE). Because of the trajectory of the moon’s path and the way the shadow moves directly across North America, this historic event will be visible across the entire United States and huge swatches of Canada.

Different Parts of the Country See Different Parts of the Eclipse

Children Point to Solar Eclipse

Image courtesy of San Diego Tribune

Eclipses are a game of math. It’s all about numbers, vectors, paths, time, angles, alignment, intersections, and other mathy terms. The people who love eclipses also love math so much they have mapped every single eclipse that will happen for the next 1,000 years. How’s that for a labor of love?

Now, eclipses happen because something in the sky covers or obscures something else in the sky and prevents the second something from sending us its light. The two objects aren’t traveling or moving together, and they don’t collide or actually connect. They just so happen to have their paths intersect in a way one covered the other. In space, they’re still millions or billions of miles apart, but the math worked out so they appear to overlap.

If those angles were even minutely different, an eclipse couldn’t happen. It all comes down to angles, both for the eclipse and for us eclipse viewers. We have to align ourselves at the proper angle to get the best view. You essentially want to be standing directly across from the sun with the moon smack dab in the middle. Deviate from that path to the left or right, and you’ll start to see bits of the sun peeking out at the edges. The further you move from that optimal viewing angle, the more of the sun you’ll see throughout the eclipse.

What’s a partial eclipse?

Partial Solar Eclipse Shadows

Courtesy of KHOU.com

A partial eclipse happens when the moon covers any percentage of the sun, regardless of how small. These happen all the time and usually aren’t very spectacular. Total eclipses result from the moon’s orbit seamlessly converging with a precise point in space. When the moon hits that point, it is perfectly, but briefly, positioned directly in front of the sun. The Great American Eclipse will feature both a partial eclipse and a total eclipse. These aren’t separate events. The type of eclipse you see depends on where you are.

Most of North America will see only a partial eclipse. During a partial eclipse, the moon only covers portions of the sun. This results in some gorgeous, yet subtle, twilight effects and spectacular light and shadow shows. How much the moon obscures the sun varies based on your exact location. Some areas will only see 20% of the sun obscured, whereas other partial eclipse locations will experience a 99.7% Use this eclipse viewing calculator to discover precisely what you’ll see during the eclipse and when. Plug in your zip code, and it’ll do the rest!

What’s a total eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the sun is completely hidden from view by another celestial body (moon, star, planet) or its shadow. During the Great American Eclipse on August 21st, the moon will be moving in front of the sun. The resulting shadow cascades across North America and will be visible for hours, but there’s only a small window of opportunity to observe the precious few minutes of “totality.”

Progress of a Total Solar Eclipse

Stages of a Total Solar Eclipse. Image courtesy of Space.com

Totality occurs when the moon completely covers the sun, obscuring it entirely and blocking its light from reaching Earth. A total solar eclipse is not a separate event from a partial solar eclipse. What people perceive as the partial eclipse is actually the edges of the total eclipse. They’re just viewing the event from the side.

Those lucky people situated along a narrow band of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina called the “path of totality” are perfectly positioned to see every unforgettable second unfold. The path of totality results from the path’s locations perfectly aligning with the sun with the moon perfectly in the middle. As a result, the total solar eclipse can only be seen from the path.

Being close to the path will not render the same experience. Your viewing angle will be off. You’ll only see a partial eclipse which, while pretty, isn’t even in the same universe as a total solar eclipse. Just for fun, here’s a list of (almost!) every single city, town and village in the path of totality. If you can find your way to one, you won’t be disappointed. More on that later, though!

What is totality like?

As totality arrives, the states, cities, towns, and villages it covers will plunge into a deep, dark, eerie twilight. The wind will begin to blow. The temperature will drop. Shadows on the ground deepen, darken, and become sharper. Silhouettes of everyday objects might look unfamiliar as their shadow morphs. You might think there’s something wrong with your eyes, as everything is just a little “off.”

solar-eclipse

When the day suddenly turns to night – image courtesy of CBC.ca

Stars will come out. You’ll see planets in the night sky. You’ll be able to see the dancing plasma on the sun’s surface. You can observe the light horizons off to the east, and an inky black wave towards the west. That wave will crash across the path of totality without warning, immersing the day with night almost instantly.

When complete totality strikes, the sky will seem to be coated in inky waves of blue-black and black, except for an undulating, glowing ring visible around the moon’s edges. This ring is the sun’s corona, or outer plasma layer. The way it shimmers, dances, swirls, and seems to glow holds magic for millions of people across the world. This stunning sight will only be visible for mere minutes. If you can look away, though, you’ll notice that the entire horizon is painted like a sunset. Turn all the way in a circle — you’ll see the flaming splashes of color on all sides.

What’s So Special About the Great American Eclipse?

eclipse map north america 2017

Image courtesy of National Geographic

The last time a total solar eclipse blanketed the U.S. from one side to the other was 99 years ago. In 1918, an eclipse covered a path of totality stretching from Oregon to Florida. The 1918 eclipse shares another trait with the Great American Eclipse, too. Just like the upcoming solar event, that eclipse affected the entire North American continent. So, what makes the upcoming eclipse so special? In a nutshell, it’s rarity. For most people, it’s a once or twice in a lifetime event.

The giddyness and excitement surrounding the GAE stems from the path of totality’s accessibility. Total solar eclipses aren’t rare. The Earth experiences one or two every year. However, most of these eclipses are well off the beaten path or covering inaccessible locations. The GAE’s path of totality is 73 miles wide and stretches from the northern west coast to the southern east coast. The city with the best vantage point and longest totality duration is said to be Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which is situated close to several interstates.

Disabilities, Service Dogs, and Eclipses

When it comes to experiencing the eclipse as a Service Dog handler or a person with a disability, science says there’s not a lot of direct risk for most people. The most important safety consideration involves properly protecting your eyes, as looking at the sun during the eclipse for even a second or two can cause irreversible damage. Good forms of protection include proper eclipse glasses (regular sunglasses won’t do!) or a pinhole projector. The projectors are very easy to make at home with everyday objects and they remove almost all the risk of watching the eclipse.

Will the solar eclipse affect my Service Dog?

There is little to no risk of the eclipse harming your Service Dog’s eyes. Dogs, like most of the animal kingdom, instinctively avoid looking at the sun. They won’t look at the sun during the eclipse, either. However, if eye protection would help you feel more comfortable, Doggles are a great budget option and Rex Specs the best you can find.

“On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun, and therefore don’t damage their eyes.  And on this day, they’re not going to do it, either,” explains Angela Speck, director of astronomy and a professor of astrophysics at the University of Missouri.

Science does suggest, though, that the eclipse might alter your Service Dog’s behavior.

Your dog may have more energy. If they’re the talkative type, they might vocalize more than normal. Some dogs prepare to go to bed. It’s important to remember, though, that your dog will be cueing from your behavior. If you’re calm and relaxed, they’ll be more calm and relaxed. If you’re in a large crowd and there’s tons of excitement and chaos, they’re likely to be unsettled.

Behavior and training experts recommend treating this event like you’d treat the 4th of July. Keep your Service Dog on a leash while outdoors. Make sure their tag info is up to date and they’re wearing a collar. Protect them from undue stress while in crowds. Each dog’s reaction can vary based on their personality type, training, and how in sync they are with their handler.

Traveling With Your Service Dog During the Eclipse

Protect Service Dog Eyes During Eclipse

Your Service Dog’s eyes don’t require special protection.

If you’re joining the millions of people of traveling to the path of totality, make sure you’re prepared for the road trip. Your Service Dog needs supplies, gear, and a small first aid kit. While traveling to the eclipse and in the path of totality, proper vehicle restraint for your Service Dog is an absolute necessity. Traffic is thick, heavy, and gridlocked, with distracted and tired drivers. There’s no sense in taking unnecessary risks. Good vehicle safety equipment for Service Dogs can take the form of a crate or a specially designed seatbelt harness. Here are the top products that have been tested and rated for car safety:

There’s not much formal research related to eclipses and mood swings, but many people believe that eclipses have psychological effects. People seem to be more agitated, have unusual dreams, burst of creativity, and even relationship difficulties.

Will the eclipse affect my disability?

SD Axel Sitting in Twilight

The loss of light can increase your fall risk.

When it comes to disabilities and solar eclipses, there isn’t a whole lot of research. It’s very difficult to gather the large amounts of data necessary during such a short time period. However, there tends to be general agreement in the medical and scientific communities that the eclipse should not directly affect most disabilities.

The biggest risk for someone with a disability is the sudden loss of light. If you don’t adjust well to darkness or perception changes, you might have a higher risk of falling or injury. The way the light is distributed is odd, too, and can play tricks on your eyes. Every day objects don’t always look the same. It can feel like the environment is just a little “off” and you can’t quite define why.

Even people with epilepsy should be able to watch the eclipse with proper eyewear — a 1997 study shows that there’s no correlation between the altered lighting or flickering of a solar eclipse and triggered seizures.

What about the eclipse’s effect on mood?

All of that being said, though, historians throughout the ages have made record of an eclipse’s effect on mood. There’s not a lot of modern research related to eclipses and mood swings, but many experts believe eclipses might have psychological effects. People often seem to be more agitated, have unusual dreams, bursts of creativity or excessive energy. Some people may even experience relationship difficulties.

If you have a mood disorder or personality disorder, keep in mind you might not feel like yourself. Keep in touch with your safety network and practice good self care. If you’re partnered with a Service Dog, your dog might key into your moods.

You don’t have to miss the eclipse because you can’t go!

If your disability prevents you from traveling to see the eclipse, navigating large crowds, or sitting outside in hot weather, don’t fret! NASA is livestreaming the entire event with a 360 panoramic camera. This set up will allow viewers to feel as if they’re right there, watching it from the source.

What are your thoughts on the eclipse? Will you and your Service Dog be watching? How did you prepare? If you did go, did you notice in changes in your Service Dog’s behavior? We’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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