What to expect in Pittsburgh during a total solar eclipse this August

A Pitt team is traveling to Tennessee to help NASA document the path of the eclipse.

Louis Coban, Carlos Vazquez and Marshall Hartman fill the balloon with helium for a Friday test launch.

Louis Coban, Carlos Vazquez and Marshall Hartman fill the balloon with helium for a Friday test launch.

MJ slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

Mark your calendar — on August 21, a total solar eclipse will happen coast-to-coast.

Although Pittsburgh isn’t in the eclipse’s direct path, you’ll be able to see it from here. And if you want to see what it looks like when it’s dark in the middle of the day, NASA will be livestreaming from the path thanks to research teams like the one from the University of Pittsburgh.

On Friday morning, the rain cleared and the sky turned blue just as the team of faculty, students and Allegheny Observatory staff was about to test-launch their high-altitude balloon from the observatory for the last time.

The balloon has five pieces attached to it, and the whole thing goes up to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere — up to 105,000 feet —in about an hour and a half. Inside the top piece is a computer that will trigger the rope to be cut, and the pieces (aka “payloads”) carrying sensors, computers, GPS and cameras taking video and photos will return to the ground with a parachute.

The GPS helps the team find the payloads when they land, usually about 40 miles away. (On Friday the team went to Indiana, Pa. to retrieve the data devices.)

On eclipse day, the Pitt team will be in the eclipse’s path near Springfield, Tenn., which is simply the closest direct spot via car, said Dave Turnshek, director of the Allegheny Observatory. About 55 teams will be in the path and sending live video and photos to NASA, per the project’s website.

It’s the first time that a total solar eclipse can be viewed from the perspective of near-space, the Pitt team members said.

So what is a solar eclipse?

According to NASA, an eclipse is when the moon and the sun are the “same angular size.”

“The Sun is 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther away, so they coincidentally appear to be the same size in our sky,” per NASA.

The August eclipse goes from Salem, Ore. to Charleston, S.C., and those in the path will have roughly two minutes of darkness in the middle of the day, NASA says. Turnshek said he remembered traveling as a teen to see a solar eclipse and described it as “deep twilight,” remembering that stars were visible. See the path: