Breaking: New solar eclipse stamp does something no other stamp can

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 thermochromic ink, which is sensitive to heat.  When the new stamp it is touched, the stamp’s 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 stamps.”

©2017 USPS.

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 100 miles wide.

Astrophysicist Fred Espenak, 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 a 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.

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Back of Total Solar Eclipse stamp

 Related: South Floridians prepare for total solar eclipse

Thermochromic inks are vulnerable to UV light and should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible to preserve this special effect. To help ensure longevity, the Postal Service will be offering a special envelope to hold and protect the stamp pane for a nominal fee.

Bush said the stamp is a departure from traditional USPS offerings of “dead presidents and musicians.”

“Today’s stamps can be dull,” Bush said. “The USPS has struggled to come up with stamps and designs that excite people.”

While Florida is too far south to experience the full impact of the eclipse, some residents have been scheming for months to line up prime viewing accommodations, and that includes having quick getaway routes in case a cloud strays overhead and clear-sky arrangements must be found.

West Palm Beach, FL.The moon obscures a little more than 51 percent of the sun in December 2001 during a partial eclipse. The next solar eclipse visible from South Florida doesn’t occur until April 2005. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

“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,” said Delray Beach resident Rick Kupfer, who will travel 2,000 miles to experience the event. “I understand that once you go through one of these things, you just want to experience it again and again.”

Kupfer and his wife will set up reclining lawn chairs at a rest stop along a highway outside Casper, Wyoming. It’s a strategic position, chosen because the semi-arid climate has a low chance of rain or clouds in mid-August, but also because Kupfer is hoping to avoid the pandemonium in town.

Casper is hosting ASTROCON 2017 , the annual convention of the Astronomical League, the week of the eclipse.

The solar eclipse stamp will debut in Laramie, Wyoming 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 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.”

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