Rare celestial event a week away: Delawareans prepare for solar eclipse

DOVER — On Aug. 21, Delaware will be treated to the sight of a solar eclipse — an astronomical event in which the moon passes between the sun and earth and temporarily blocks part or all of its light.

According to NASA, the path of the total solar eclipse will run diagonally across the US from Oregon to South Carolina. While the most interesting viewing, not seen in the contiguous US since 1979, will be in the states the total eclipse passes over, Delawareans will still see a fascinating partial eclipse.

No matter where you are in Delaware on Aug. 21, if you have the right protection, University of Delaware astronomy professor Judith Provencal said you should partake in the unique viewing opportunity if only for a bit of perspective.

“A solar eclipse is one of the most dramatic astronomical events we can view from the Earth’s surface,” she said. “People used to think it was the end of the world! I love it because it reminds me that we live on a small planet that is connected to the rest of the solar system.”

Delaware residents will see a partial eclipse with the moon covering about 80 percent of the solar disk, Ms. Provencal said.

Teresa Connor, board member with Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation, uses her eclipse glasses to look at the sun at Mt. Joy Observatory in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Around 1:20 p.m., the moon will start to take a bit out of the sun,” she said. “The sun will shrink to a crescent until around 2:30 p.m., then start to grow to a full disk again as the moon moves completely away by 4 p.m.

“While it won’t get really dark, sunlight will seem to be thin. The shadows may also look different. This is an optical effect resulting from the sun no longer being round.”

There will be a small increase in solar disk coverage the farther south in the state one goes, but it’s unlikely to be noticeably different from viewing in the north, Ms. Provencal noted. That said, whichever part of the state has clear skies that day is where viewers ought to flock because thick clouds can obscure any sight of it at all.

Delaware saw a similar partial eclipse in 1994 and 2000, but won’t see another until 2024. Delaware’s last sight of a total eclipse was in 1970.

With your solar glasses or a special viewer, watch for the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon passes over the sun, a stage that lasts for a few hours. (Dreamstime/TNS)

“It’s hard to say when Delaware will see its next total eclipse. I looked all the way to 2100 and only saw partial eclipse predictions,” said Ms. Provencal.

She also noted that there will come a time — long from now — where the planet won’t see any more total eclipses at all.

“We live in the perfect time for eclipses,” she said. “In about 500 million years, which is short astronomically speaking, there will only be partial eclipses. This is because the moon is moving slowly away from Earth, so its apparent disk is shrinking. The moon won’t be able to completely cover the solar disk eventually.”

Protect your eyes

Although most people have been told since elementary school not to stare directly at an eclipse, it’s a warning that bears constant repeating because the consequences can be so dire.

Dr. Karen Rudo, a Delaware Eye Clinics ophthalmologist, said sunlight peeking around the disk of the moon during an eclipse can permanently blind or otherwise damage your vision in mere seconds.

“If someone looks at the eclipse and there is still a little sunlight visible, it can basically cause permanent blindness,” she said. “The sun can actually burn your retina so you never see again. Sometimes it’ll just damage your eyes temporarily or cause blurry vision, but it’s best to never take a chance at all. No one can say how long is too long, just don’t look unless you have appropriate protection.”

Teresa Connor, board member with Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation in the Mt. Joy Observatory in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The only methods of safely viewing an eclipse, according to NASA, are through special purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.

Dr. Rudo said it pays to make absolutely sure that viewers get a reputable and guaranteed pair, because in the past there have been reports of faulty glasses. NASA has a list of reputable vendors available at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.

Ms. Provencal also said that Amazon sells a number of reliable brands.

“Make sure the ones you get are ISO and CE certified,” she said.

Dr. Rudo says that taking a peak at an eclipse without proper protection is never worth the risk, because the potential damage is something even the best ophthalmologists can’t fix. Sadly, she says there are still cases where people ruin their vision despite all the warnings.

“It’s rare, but it actually does still happen,” she said. “It’s tempting to have a look because it doesn’t seem like it’d be a big deal. Also, there are a number of different religious cults that do exercises where they stare at the sun, or sometimes mentally ill people will become fixated on the sun and look directly at it.

“Most people will notice something immediately and look away so they won’t be completely blinded, but permanent blurriness or even vision degradation can easily happen.”

Children should be warned repeatedly of the dangers of looking at an eclipse with the naked eye. If anyone does experience pain, blurred vision or vision loss from looking at an eclipse, they should consult an eye doctor as soon as possible, Dr. Rudo said.

Day of celebrations

Once proper precautions are taken, residents can enjoy the phenomenon solo or at one of the many viewing events taking place throughout the state.

The Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation (DASEF) is hosting a free rain or shine eclipse viewing event at their Mt. Joy Observatory at 585 Big Oak Road in Smyrna, on Aug. 21 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The organization will be selling a limited supply of viewing glasses purchased directly from NASA at their event for $1 apiece. They’ll also have seven telescopes with solar filters for viewers to use.

“We’ll have around 40 volunteers on site sort of showing people around the observatory and briefing people on what they’re seeing,” said DASEF president Dr. Stephanie Wright. “It’s going to be a celebration too with lots of fun and educational things for the kids. We’re in a park, there’s a scaled planetary walk and there will be a moon bounce and food trucks.”

DASEF has been a state fixture for more than 28 years — contributing to the academic development of over 559,000 students, educators and others by sharing activities and programing consistent with current aerospace research and development. Even though the organization has a storied past in the state and continues to develop, Dr. Wright says that some people still don’t know DASEF exists

“We’re have a beautiful park on 39 acres and although we are earth and science focused, we do programming from everything between dinosaurs and outer space,” she said. “We’re right in the middle of installing a new half-acre ‘Galaxy Garden’ where our galaxy will be mapped out and represented by 300 different plants set up in astronomically correct spiral arms. Once it’s completed, visitors will be able to walk through and see all the spiral arms of the galaxy until they come to the one leaf on a plant that represents our little solar system — it’ll be great for giving you an idea about our place in the universe.”

The event will even have a thing or two for the big kids. Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna and Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company in Dover collaborated on a limited Whiskey release they’ll be selling at the event called “SunSeeker”. Ron Gomes, co-owner of Painted Stave Distilling, said that only 130 bottles were produced in the limited run.

“The release is one of a kind,” he said. “It’s a single barrel wheat whiskey, distilled from a summer wheat beer (SunSeeker) produced by Fordham and Dominion Brewing in Dover. Post distillation, the whiskey was rested in one of our barrels for 18 months.”

Eclipse viewing events

The Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation Eclipse Watching Party

Aug. 21 from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 585 Big Oak Road in Smyrna

Free rain or shine event with viewing glasses available for $1

Childrens’ activities, eclipse demos, food trucks, limited whiskey release

University of Delaware Mt. Cuba Observatory eclipse viewing event

Aug. 21 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 1610 Hillside Mill Road in Greenville

Space is limited, call (302) 654-6407 or visit mountcuba.org/ for reservations

Solar filtered telescopes will be available to view eclipse

Delaware Museum of Natural History eclipse viewing party

Aug. 21 peak viewing at 2:43 p.m. at 4840 Kennett Pike in Wilmington

Free with museum admission, rain or shine

Children’s story about the solar eclipse, eclipse viewing on Museum grounds, NASA’s eclipse live stream viewing, scientist interviews about the eclipse

Delaware Seashore State Park viewing event

Aug. 21 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 39415 Inlet Rd. in Rehoboth Beach

Free with park admission, viewing glasses available for $2

Park interpreter led hike and viewing


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