NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

The Total Solar Eclipse of 2024 & Air Quality

ByMarc Silberberg

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Perfection! That is how those lucky enough to have observed the solar eclipse in totality describe the sight they saw on that fateful Monday. How did our creator line up our little moon with the huge sun so that they align exactly right with only the corona lighting up the sky? The corona is defined as the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere which extends millions of kilometers into outer space.

Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, and whether you’re religious or not, the solar eclipse of the sun on Monday, April 8th, 2024, brought us all together in a very positive way. Although eclipses are predicted, there is still an excitement and enthusiasm in actually seeing it for us and of course, seeing is believing.

Imagine a young child hearing that their older sister is getting married. They know it will happen on a certain day but cannot imagine exactly what it is since this child has never experienced anything similar to a wedding. This is especially true of people who have not experienced a miraculous occurrence such as an eclipse before. The proof is the fact that entire families traveled across the world to experience such a phenomenon. More than that, these foreigners were so enthralled with America to the point that when a reporter asked a girl from Europe to respond to his question of what message she wanted to give over to the world, “I love America “she answered. When was the last time we heard that phrase?

 We all experienced the total opposite of this togetherness a mere few years ago when the COVID-19 virus caused the people of the world to become isolated from each other. Even family members stayed away from each other for over a year, missing weddings, birthdays, the birth of new babies and even funerals. We still don’t know if that was the right way to go, causing people to die alone and children to miss important educational growth. Nevertheless, what’s done is done so it was so nice to see the positive energy and friendliness that took place while waiting for the solar eclipse. People from Madrid and England for example, were in the United States and appreciating every minute of the time spent here. No Anti-Americanism sentiments from these fans of the United States.

Some of us unfortunately were short changed either because of the cloudy weather or our locations. Nevertheless, all and all it was a positive and uplifting experience even for those of us who only saw the eclipse online. Seeing the moon lined up exactly with the sun and fitting into the sun’s circle exactly was mind boggling.

We will delve into some aspects that affect the brilliance of a total solar eclipse, air pollution, darkening of the sky and the absence of cars on the highways and roads.

Air Pollution Reduces the Intensity of the Contrast Between the Corona and the Darkened Sky

One of the most spectacular visions of this total eclipse was experiencing the sun’s corona. (Interestingly the COVID-19 virus was originally named Corona until the beer company objected due to a danger of loss of revenue.) The corona is the hottest part of the sun consisting of ionized gas and can only be seen without telescopic instruments during a total solar eclipse.

Some folks were not able to see the glorious bright color of the corona because particulate matter which creates a hazy look in the atmosphere lessening the distinction between the sun’s corona and the dark sky. This takes away from the amazing display of G-D’s artwork.

Our skyline changes depending on the air quality on any given day. Air pollution consists mainly of two things, aerosols, and particulate matter. Even though we could be lucky and have a completely sunny day without any clouds to block the long-awaited solar eclipse, the sunlight is absorbed by air pollution which causes haze blocking the full extent of the sun’s rays. The beautiful color of the corona will become compromised due to the effects of the haze on the viewing of the eclipse.

What Happens When the Sky Darkens in the Middle of the Day?

This author was in an area where only a partial eclipse was viewed and at that point it was pretty cloudy out. The only difference we experienced was a slight darkening of the sky for a brief period. Those who were in the right place at the right time experienced darkness as if it was night, which is such an amazing experience especially if you have pets. Will they realize it is still daytime or go into their doghouse or snuggle into their pet beds for the night? Each pet owner has their own experience to report.

All of those spectators revealed that there was substantial cooling and lowering of the outdoor temperature in their region or the place they were visiting. During the eclipse there was a sudden reduction in the solar radiation causing a rapid cooling of the entire earth’s weather which interrupted the viability of the atmosphere. What some of us did not realize and have recently learned is that this sudden change causes a disruption in the circulation of the air and that pollutants are scattering throughout the atmosphere. This can cause the emergence of the harmful pollution called ground-level ozone.

Changes in Weather Patterns Caused by the Solar Eclipse

Some interesting changes caused by the solar eclipse are changes in wind patterns, humidity, a decrease in clouds and bow waves of the ionosphere (an atmosphere that contains free ions and electrons).

Changes in Wind Patterns: When the sun is blocked by the moon it causes the air to cool. As the air cools it actually sinks lower causing a shift in the speed and direction of the wind.

Changes in Humidity: Even though there is no precipitation or increase in the moisture in the air, humidity does increase because of lowering of the temperature.

Cloud Clearings: During a solar eclipse clouds diminish when a small part of the sun is covered causing the skies to clear. There is a decrease in the sun’s heating of the earth, and this causes lower clouds to move up and clear the air.

Bow Waves: These are similar to waves caused by a boat in water. The quick changing of the shadow of the eclipse causes these rays.

Interestingly, improvement of air quality is possible when pollutants are separated and their concentration in the air is lessened. In any case, the air pollution caused by a solar eclipse is temporary and only lasts as long as the eclipse itself. As the sun becomes normal again it’s radiation goes back to its original state bringing back the pre-eclipse atmospheric characteristics.

Comparison of Traffic Patterns During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Day of the Solar Eclipse

Many of us will not be able to name one positive aspect of the horrible COVID-19 pandemic yet thinking back to the terrible time in history there was one silver lining and that is the decrease in air pollution because of the reduction in cars and trucks on the roads and highways. Even one of the air pollution capitals of our country, Los Angeles, saw the miraculous rebirth of clear skies over their city.

Los Angeles suffers from an extreme amount of air pollution on a daily basis, however, during the last pandemic people were breathing cleaner air and enjoying it despite the tragedies that were occurring in hospitals and nursing homes. No one was immune to death, and everyone knew people if not from their own families, then in their circle of friends and neighbors who passed away from COVID-19. Yet people with asthma or other pulmonary issues claimed to be able to breathe better during this time.

Interestingly, this author had a similar experience on the day of the solar eclipse. I was hesitant to travel in my car during the eclipse not having the forethought of buying the special glasses. We waited till four-thirty on Monday afternoon and ventured for a two-hour drive in the middle of rush hour to a wedding in New Jersey. To our pleasant surprise there was no traffic going or coming home and we made the trip in record time. It seemed like a holiday not a Monday and this reminded us of the traveling times during the COVID-19 epidemic where a ride to another state was shortened almost in half.

Another interesting aspect absent for most people at the outdoor eclipse parties was the attachment to their phones. Instead of watching whatever on their phones they were mindful and living in the moment of the extraordinary event that was happening before their eyes.

Being philosophical we should take note of how everyone covered their eyes with their special eclipse glasses not wanting to harm their vision. There are many times when we should be hiding our eyes, and we don’t. It could be looking into someone’s window and invading their privacy, reading questionable material online or going to dubious websites even though we are told they could be detrimental to our emotional well-being. It could be physical excess such as smoking, doing drugs or eating unhealthy foods and for some reason folks are suspicious and don’t believe the labels we read on cigarettes or other unhealthy indulgences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic practically all of us wore our masks diligently, not questioning the effectiveness of those masks and yet in restaurants we were allowed to remove them. Why? Germs don’t travel while you are eating? It’s just the opposite since your mouth is open and that’s an easy way for those viruses to travel.

Final Words

Yes, the Eclipse of 2024 was a win-win situation for all. Entrepreneurs made money selling those inexpensive eclipse protective sunglasses, travel agents sold many tickets to exotic lands and folks learned how to live in the moment. Even our air quality improved immensely because of the reduction of cars on the roads. It sure would be prudent for all of us to follow up on the new friendships we made having good clean fun on a beautiful day in a new venue without the need for drugs, fancy foods, or alcohol to convince us that we were having a good time.

Who could forget the horrible hangovers that happen when we indulge in those activities that we know are harmful even if they are legal. Good clean fun in a simply wonderful atmosphere with great weather and good air quality is enough for people of any age. Let’s learn from the memorable day of April 8, 2024, to keep being friendly and warm to strangers who can quickly become friends. With wonderful memories of the eclipse of 2024, we will anxiously wait for the next one. I wonder where each of us will be on that day.

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