Total solar eclipse will darken sky, illuminate minds

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By Rachel Mergen


“It is estimated that many millions of people from all over the globe will be converging upon the path that the moon’s shadow will take as the sun casts the moon’s shadow onto the earth, as the earth turns.  The ‘path’ starts at Oregon and will sweep across the country diagonally toward the southeast to South Carolina,” Tom Bennett, secretary of the StarSplitters of Wyalusing, said about the upcoming eclipse that will occur midday Monday, Aug. 21. 

According to Nancy Ashmore, director of the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library, this event will be the first total solar eclipse in the United States since 1979. Around the world, a total eclipse happens about every four years.

Wisconsinites in the Prairie du Chien area will be able to see approximately 89 percent of the sun being blocked by the moon between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Many young adults and children will be experiencing an eclipse for the first time with this rare spectacle, and the StarSplitters hope that community members will take the time to appreciate the spectacular event. 

The NASA website states an eclipse is when, “the moon passes between the sun and Earth and blocks all or part of the sun for up to about three hours, from beginning to end, as viewed from a given location. For this eclipse, the longest period when the moon completely blocks the sun from any given location along the path will be about two minutes and 40 seconds.”

To fully appreciate and view the celestial event, members of the StarSplitters organization and its sister organization, the Iowa County Astronomers, will be traveling to Missouri, which is in the trail of states that will experience the eclipse almost perfectly.

“Listen for the birds to get quiet. Watch the cows go to the barn for the night. Look around at the dim surroundings. It’ll be fun,” Bennett described what he hopes those staying in the Prairie du Chien area will do during the eclipse. 

When it comes to preparing for the day, viewers need to have a way to avoid eye damage. If the eclipse is looked directly into, eyesight issues could develop. At the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library, eclipse viewing glasses are for sale.

Bennett commented, “Although eclipse glasses are essential to look directly at the eclipse, it is also simple and fun to simply poke a small hole in a small piece of cardboard and hold it out for the sun to shine through. The “hole” will project the eclipse onto the ground where it can be safely viewed by anyone.”

Treasurer of the StarSplitters, Mark Otteson, declared the event will be highly popular, because events in the sky have always caused wonder in humans. 

Astronomers have been able to accurately predict eclipses and other solar system events for quite some time, and Aug. 21 will be no exception. 

Otteson will be attending the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library viewing of the eclipse. He will speak with attendees about the event as visitors enjoy the unique sight that will surely leave a lasting memory.

To teach the community more about the eclipse and other celestial details, the StarSplitters members are happy to call the local area home.

“The StarSplitters of Wyalusing is a small, non-profit, all-volunteer group of astronomy enthusiasts who have contracted with Wyalusing State Park for a relatively dark-sky location at which we can do our telescope viewings. In return, our group provides free monthly astronomy programs during the warm months which are followed by telescope viewings, if the weather permits. We also offer arranged programs and viewings for school, church and family groups in return for donations,” Bennett mentioned. 

“Our group has been fortunate to have various benefactors who have contributed funds toward our classroom building, observation dome and deck and several large telescopes which allow impressive views of the many fascinating objects in and around our solar system and galaxy. We regularly show planets, star clusters, other galaxies, nebulae and more.”

Otteson proposed a simple question that makes an important point. “Why not enjoy it?” he asked about the rare eclipse that may only occur once or twice in a lifetime. 

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