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Planetarium witnesses growth in excitement as Monday’s total eclipse nears

August 18, 2017

On Monday, for the first time since 1918, a total solar eclipse will track from coast to coast across the United States, and the excitement over the event has reached a fever pitch.

The phones at the W.A. Gayle Planetarium, operated by Troy University on behalf of the City of Montgomery, have been jammed with calls from Alabamians wanting to learn more about the eclipse and how to safely view it.

“Beginning about 9 a.m. Pacific time, the moon’s shadow will first touch land in Oregon, and eventually will track across the United States until it leaves land and goes into the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina,” said Rick Evans, Planetarium director. “The path of totality is only about 70 miles wide, those outside of that range will see varying levels of a partial solar eclipse.”

For most in Alabama, the event will feature a 90 percent coverage of the sun, which is still very significant, Evans said.

“In Montgomery, we will experience a 90 percent coverage, which certainly means people will need to use eclipse glasses or alternative means of viewing while avoiding looking directly at it with the naked eye,” Evans said. “Around noon, the sky will begin to slowly turn to dusk. There will be a difference in temperature that could be as much as 10, 15 or 20 degrees. There will not be total darkness because just 1 percent of the sun is 10,000 times brighter than a full moon.”

The Planetarium began educational efforts last year when they hosted the joint conference of the Southeastern Planetarium Association and the Western Alliance Conference, featuring keynote speaker Fred Espenak who is known as “Mr. Eclipse.”

Since that time, the Planetarium staff has been trying to prepare all visiting school groups with information about the eclipse.
Throughout this month, the Planetarium has been featuring the show “Eclipse: The Sun Revealed.” Admission fee to the show initially included a pair of eclipse glasses. However, the supply of eclipse glasses has long since been exhausted.

“We have been talking about this to every group that has come through here over the past year,” Evans said. “We wanted to try to help people be as prepared as they could possibly be to witness this event.”

He admits that most of the recent calls he has received have focused on the availability of the glasses, but he has also fielded questions about alternative ways of viewing.

“Since we no longer have glasses available, people have been interested in other ways of safely viewing the eclipse,” he said. “There is a method known as the pinhole technique that utilizes cardboard with a small hole in it, but you can also point a mirror in the direction of the sun and view the shadow on the wall to view the eclipse indirectly. There are also some other interesting sites visible during this time. For those who are unable to view the eclipse safely, they can look in the southeastern sky and see Jupiter and in the western sky and see Venus.”

Evans said the Planetarium will have tents set up on its ground on Monday and have a few pairs of eclipse glasses that people can take turns sharing. He also said several local offices have indicated they wanted to come to the Planetarium as a group to view the event.

Evans says for those who are unable to view Monday’s eclipse, there are more coming in the future. In 2024, a total solar eclipse will come through Mexico up through the United States. However, he notes the effect of that eclipse in the Montgomery area will be far less than Monday’s event.

“Another total eclipse that will pretty much be a coast to coast event in the U.S. will be in 2045,” Evans said. “In that one, Montgomery will be in the path of totality.”

However, if you don’t want to wait that long or feel you might not be around, Evans says Monday’s eclipse could be the solar event of your lifetime.