Getting ready for the partial solar eclipse

Celestial event to take place next week

This photo provided by Bob Baer and Sarah Kovac, participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a "diamond ring" shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. For the 2017 eclipse over the United States, the National Science Foundation-funded movie project nicknamed Citizen CATE will have more than 200 volunteers trained and given special small telescopes and tripods to observe the sun at 68 locations in the exact same way. The thousands of images from the citizen-scientists will be combined for a movie of the usually hard-to-see sun’s edge. (R. Baer, S. Kovac/Citizen CATE Experiment via AP)

MARQUETTE — Some ancient civilizations thought of the event as a harbinger of doom, but next Monday, observers should simply be fascinated.

That day, a rare total solar eclipse can be seen by residents in a 70-mile swath across the United States from near Lincoln City, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial total eclipse will be observable throughout the rest of North America, with Marquette residents treated to a 75 percent eclipse.

What they can expect and how they can get the most out of the experience was the subject of a Wednesday presentation at the Peter White Public Library entitled “What’s Out There? Solar Eclipse.”

A panel of local astronomy enthusiasts talked about various aspects of the event.

“We’re all crossing our fingers for clear weather,” Scott Stobbelaar said.

That’s understandable, considering it will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in 38 years.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon casts a shadow on the earth, fully or partially blocking the sun’s light in some regions. Observers in the path of totality will be able to see the sun’s corona — weather permitting, of course — while viewers outside the path will see a partial eclipse.

When the moon completely blocks the sun, the total eclipse will last up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds depending on the location.

“On the 21st, we’ll have a direct alignment of the sun, the moon and the earth,” Stobbelaar said. “So, what’s happening is like a flashlight shining on a ball.”

A total solar eclipse is considered one of the most spectacular phenomena in the world.

“You have got to see a total eclipse at least before you leave this planet, and once you have seen one — I’m not talking partial — it will be a religious experience, I swear,” Stobbelaar said.

That could be a long wait for anyone not willing to travel far. The next total solar eclipse visible over the continental United States will be on April 8, 2024.

A 75 percent eclipse, though, is special and otherworldly too.

“As you know, the sky is going to turn kind of a silvery-gray color,” Stobbelaar said. “It’s going to be really, really neat.”

In Marquette, that will take place between 1 and 3 p.m., he said, with the eclipse being at its “max” at 2:30.

“The moon is going to move across the lower part of the sun, and there’ll be just kind of a thumbnail of the sun left at about 2:30 on the 21st, so that’s kind of cool,” Stobbelaar said. “The moon is going to take a bite out of the sun, just keep biting away.”

Stobbelaar, along with other members of the Marquette Astronomical Society, will travel to various parts of the country to view the total eclipse.

However, not everyone will be able to make a lengthy trip out of the Upper Peninsula.

So, people staying at home should keep a few tips in mind.

“Because a portion of the surface of the sun will always be visible, you always have to be using safety equipment to view this partial eclipse that’s visible in the U.P.,” MAS member Craig Linde said.

A commercial solar filter that can be mounted on a telescope is one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment that can be used, he said.

He also addressed the safe and easy projection method.

“When you project an image, you are not looking through any device,” Linde said. “You’re looking at an image projected onto another source, and so you’re turning away from the sun, and so that makes it safer, especially around children.”

Audience members tried on the free eclipse glasses handed out during the library program — the type of items necessary when viewing the Aug. 21 event.

“When you put those on, the only thing you can really see is the sun and everything else is black, so the kids will be taking them off and on a lot, so it’s kind of hard to keep control of a bunch of little kids running around,” Linde said.

With projection, that’s not an issue.

Linde recommended making a pinhole projector out of a cardboard box, paper, tape and aluminum foil. White paper is taped to the inside of one end of the box, with the foil with a pinhole attached to the other end. Sunlight enters the aluminum foil end and passes through the inside of the box, with the small image of a partially eclipsed sun displayed on the other end. The viewer sees that image from the inside of the box. According to NASA, the longer the distance from the pinhole to the screen, the larger the image of the sun will be.

A simple method, Linde said, is using a kitchen colander to view the eclipse.

“Anything that has a hole in it will project an image of the sun on the ground,” Linde said.

Local events

Northern Michigan University’s Physics Department is offering area residents an opportunity to safely view this area’s partial solar eclipse through a telescope equipped with a sun filter at the NMU Observatory Dome. This free event is scheduled from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Visitors should enter the rotunda entrance at NMU’s West Science Building and follow directional signs to the catwalk of the Observatory Dome. Overflow visitors will be able to view NASA streaming video of the eclipse in a nearby classroom.

The sun filter blocks out more than 90 percent of the sun’s light, according to Dave Donovan, head of the NMU Physics Department.

“I’ve been here 25 years and don’t know when the last total eclipse in Marquette was,” Donovan said in a news release. “It takes 18• years to come back to the same orientation. It takes 56 years to repeat the path again. Things have to align right for this to happen.”

For more information, contact Donovan at 906-227-2453 or ddonovan@nmu.edu.

The Peter White Public Library will host a solar eclipse open house from 1 to 3 p.m. outside and in the Community Room. Special glasses will be provided, and the event is for all ages. For more details, call 906-226-4323.

For information about the eclipse in general, including activities and resources, visit eclipse2017.nasa .gov.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal .net.