Dead presidents and songbirds were set aside by the U.S. Postal Service in its latest stamp design that commemorates August’s solar eclipse with an interactive creation never tried before.
The Total Solar Eclipse Forever stamp is the first from the post office to use heat sensitive thermochromic ink. When the new stamp is touched, its image changes from a blacked out sun with a silvery corona to a bright picture of the pockmarked moon.
“It’s the first interactive stamp,” said Alan Bush, a West Palm Beach philatelist who buys stamp collections. “It’s fascinating and should be more of a draw for the public than your typical Donald Duck or Elvis stamp.”
The stamp, which will be issued June 20, celebrates the Aug. 21 full solar eclipse — the first show of totality in the U.S. in 38 years.
In a swath of the country from South Carolina to Oregon, darkness will reign in the middle of the day for a full two minutes and 40 seconds as the moon slips between the sun and Earth casting a shadow 70 miles wide.
Fred Espenak, an astrophysicist known as Mr. Eclipse, took the photos used for the stamp. The image of the full eclipse is from a March 29, 2006, event seen in Jalu, Libya. When warmed by touch, the image turns to the full moon and reverts to the solar eclipse as it cools.
On the back of the stamp is the track of the solar eclipse across the U.S.
“If you can get into the path to see the total phase of the eclipse, it is unlike any natural phenomenon anyone has ever seen before,” Espenak said. “It’s something that should be on everyone’s bucket list, and I’m happy they are coming out with a stamp to raise public awareness about this opportunity.”
Espenak, who has seen 20 total solar eclipses, said the post office contacted him last summer for suggestions about the stamp. The photo of the full moon used in the stamp was taken from Espenak’s home in Portal, Ariz.
While Florida is too far south to experience the full impact of the eclipse, some residents have made detailed plans to reserve prime viewing accommodations in the path of totality.
Delray Beach resident Rick Kupfer will travel 2,000 miles to experience the eclipse. He and his wife plan to set up reclining lawn chairs at a rest stop along a highway outside Casper, Wyoming.
“I’ve spent my whole life looking at the northern sky, and I’ve been hooked on astronomy for a long time, but seeing an eclipse just never worked out,” Kupfer said in an interview this year. “I understand that once you go through one of these things, you just want to experience it again and again.”
Casper is a strategic spot in the path of totality. It has a semi-arid climate with low chances of rain or clouds in mid-August. It’s also the site for ASTROCON 2017 , the annual convention of the Astronomical League, which is being held the week of the eclipse.
Noah Petro, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said NASA will kick off its official promotion of the eclipse June 21 — the summer solstice — but that it’s not too early to study up on what causes the rare spectacle.
“May 25 is a new moon, and by definition, a solar eclipse happens when there is a new moon, so you can start thinking about the configuration we’ll get Aug. 21,” Petro said.
The solar eclipse stamp will debut in Laramie, Wyo., in a June 20 ceremony at the University of Wyoming. The university’s art museum celebrates the summer solstice on June 20 when a beam of light shines through a solar tube in the ceiling at noon to illuminate a silver dollar set in the floor.
Bush said people can typically buy a new stamp either the day of debut or the day after.
He hopes the interactive stamp will pique the interest of people who may not otherwise think much about the sticky square they use to mail bills.
“When you think about stamps, it’s pretty much pictures of dead presidents or musicians,” Bush said. “What you see going on now is a move by the postal service to try and make stamps cool.”