Path of totality for April 8 solar eclipse.

Path of totality for April 8 solar eclipse. Credit: Stargazers/Dennis Mammana

In ancient China, they were seen as signs that a celestial dragon was devouring the sun. Some Mayan cultures thought they heralded destruction. Babylonians kept records of them on clay tablets and learned how to predict when they would occur.

Eclipses have captivated people for thousands of years. Professional and amateur astronomers are making plans to get the best view of the celestial event on Monday — the last total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States until 2044.

Some will travel to upstate New York for the spectacle, but Long Islanders can still witness the stellar wonder from home. Here is what you need to know about the eclipse and how to watch it safely on Long Island.

What is a solar eclipse?

An eclipse of the sun is when the moon, which orbits the Earth about once every month, passes directly between the Earth and the sun.

“Now that doesn’t happen every month because the orbit of the moon isn’t exactly coplanar with the orbit of the Earth around the sun,” said Michael Shara, curator of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. “So about once a year, the moon passes right in front of the sun as seen by Earth.”

Shara pointed out that even though the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon, it is also 400 times farther away and that’s why the two of them appear about the same size in the sky.

Will we see a total eclipse on Long Island or in New York City?

Not a total, but a partial eclipse, about 90%, Shara said.

“Everyone within 50 miles of Manhattan is going to see basically the same thing,” he said. “The path of totality, just by fluke, runs almost parallel to Long Island. The only way to see more is to go north and west up to Niagara Falls.”

The path of totality includes Jamestown, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, Old Forge, Lake Placid and Plattsburgh.

People hoping for a total solar eclipse on Long Island will have to wait until 2079, said Dave Bush, director of the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium.

What is the difference between a total eclipse and 90% partial eclipse?

When the moon blocks the sun at 90%, viewers are likely to see a crescent shape of the sun peering out. The skies may darken a bit. During a total eclipse, the sky will look like dawn or dusk, according to NASA. If the skies are clear, people will see the sun’s outer atmosphere as well as stars and planets.

Bush said this eclipse is unique because once it goes into totality, people in that path will be able to see Jupiter, Mars and Venus. That does not include New York City or Long Island.

“It’s one of the most magnificent things that you or anybody will ever see,” Shara said of a total eclipse. “There are millions of people who have seen one, and they become dedicated, almost fanatic eclipse chasers. Some travel halfway around the world and spend huge amounts of money to be in the moon’s shadow for two, three or four minutes once or twice a year.”

How is this different from the 2017 eclipse?

The eclipse path is taking a different journey, Bush said.

“Last time, it started in the state of Oregon and ended up in South Carolina,” Bush said. “This one will originate in Mexico, pass through Texas, and onward through several states, including New York, Vermont and Maine.”

When does the eclipse start and when does it end?

“The moon starts covering the sun here on Long Island at 2:12 p.m. on April 8,” Bush said. “The very last piece of the moon moves past the face of the sun at 4:37 p.m.” He said while Long Islanders will not see a total solar eclipse, the skies should darken slightly.

Why is it dangerous to look at the eclipse without special glasses?

Never look directly at the sun during an eclipse without special eye protection, said Dr. Matthew Gorski, an ophthalmologist with Northwell Health Physician Partners in Great Neck. People who do so can get a rare but serious injury called solar retinopathy.

“Solar retinopathy occurs when the UV light rays enter the eye and damage the delicate tissues of the retina,” Gorski said. “This damage can occur in a moment of looking at the sun.”

He said the symptoms — blurry vision, blind spots, distortion, light sensitivity — can develop hours to days and sometimes even weeks after the exposure.

“In some cases, symptoms go away and get better, but in other cases the visual disturbances can be permanent,” Gorski said.

Doctors at Mount Sinai said they had a patient diagnosed with solar retinopathy after the 2017 solar eclipse. She had looked at the sun during the eclipse for 21 seconds without protective eyewear and had burned a hole in her retina.

How can I safely look at the eclipse?

“If you want to look at the eclipse, you need special glasses that carry the designation ISO 12312-2,” Gorski said. “These are the only types of glasses you should wear to look at the sun. Never try to make your own eclipse glasses. These are thousands of times darker than the regular sunglasses.”

Gorski said people should get these glasses from a reputable vendor and check them for damage such as scratches or holes before using them. And turn away from the sun when you take them off.

Can children safely watch the eclipse?

Gorski said parents need to be extra cautious with children. “You have to know your child and if they are going to be responsible enough to put on the glasses and use them properly,” he said. Also, make sure the glasses fit them correctly.

What kind of scams should people be aware of regarding the eclipse?

Gov. Kathy Hochul has warned people to be on guard for fake merchandise and phony accommodation listings for people who are following the path of the eclipse. For example, some vendors might sell counterfeit or overpriced merchandise, or scammers might create false hotel or rental listings offering prime views of the eclipse when they might not even exist or the person might not own the property.

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