Archive for Monday, May 29, 2017

KU astronomers planning viewing of Aug. 21 near-total eclipse

This March 9, 2016 file photo shows a total solar eclipse in Belitung, Indonesia.

This March 9, 2016 file photo shows a total solar eclipse in Belitung, Indonesia.

May 29, 2017

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A coming astronomical event tested the priorities of astronomer and teacher Barbara Anthony-Twarog.

In less than three months, a very rare event — a total solar eclipse — will occur a short drive from the home of the professor in the University of Kansas Department of Astronomy and Physics. Anthony-Twarog, however, has other plans for Aug. 21 and won’t be making a drive to Atchison, Leavenworth, Troy or eastern Kansas City, Mo., to see the moon totally block the sun.

“I know people who are desperately anxious to see the totality, but it seems like a good opportunity for public education,” she said. “I’m content to stay here. It would be nice if totality was passing over us, but it isn’t, and I’m not motivated to leave town. Maybe the next time.”

On Aug. 21, a solar eclipse will cut a transcontinental swath across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. Lawrence is just out of the path of totality, the area in which earthbound viewers will see the moon eclipse the entire sun.

The moon and sun will still put on quite a show in Lawrence, with 99 percent of the sun blocked during the event’s peak.

“Ninety-nine percent is still really dark, so it will noticeable for people and wildlife,” Anthony-Twarog said.

The local event will start about 11:40 a.m. as the moon first starts blocking the sun, Anthony-Twarog said. It will get darker and darker as the moon blocks more and more of the sun until it reaches its maximum 99 percent blockage at 1:07 p.m., she said. The peak darkness won’t last long.

“Totality is going to be two and a half minutes,” she said. “Some total eclipses can be 10 minutes.”

It will be impressive enough that Anthony-Twarog and others in her department are already planning how to help others enjoy and learn from the eclipse. The department plans a public education gathering the day of the eclipse at Shenk Recreational Sports Complex, at Clinton Parkway and Iowa Street.

“We’ll have some viewing equipment, a lot of safety glasses, presentations and maybe some groups involved in solar energy,” she said. “The event will start at about 11:40 (a.m.). It will be something that, with equipment, we can follow for a couple of hours.”

It will not be safe to look at the local eclipse with the naked eye or normal sunglasses, even with 99 percent of the sun blocked, Anthony-Twarog said. There are ways it can be safely viewed, such as the pinhole shadow method or special eclipse sunglasses. Those sunglasses are already available online and might show up on store shelves as the eclipse date nears, she said.

“They are not very expensive,” she said. “It’s a pretty inexpensive way to protect your eyes.”

For those wanting to witness totality, there will be special viewing options in Atchison and Leavenworth.

Kristi Lee, manager at the Leavenworth Convention and Tourism Bureau, said planning was underway for a public viewing in the parking lot of a local restaurant and at the University of St. Mary athletic field. Totality will last 1.5 minutes in Leavenworth, she said.

There were rooms available in Leavenworth for the night before the eclipse despite rumors to the contrary, Lee said.

There will be public viewings in Atchison at Amelia Earhart Airport and at Benedictine College. Steve Johnson, Benedictine director of marketing and communications, said the college has been planning for the eclipse since September 2016. The big event will be a free public viewing of the eclipse at the school’s Wilcox Stadium, he said.

Two Vatican astronomers and Jesuit priests will visit Benedictine to speak and view the eclipse, Johnson said. John Christopher Corbally, president of the Vatican City State’s National Committee of Astronomy, will speak on the history of astronomy and the church at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the school’s O'Malley-McAllister Auditorium, and Paul Gabor, director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group, will speak at 9:30 a.m. the day of the eclipse in the auditorium, Johnson said.

There will be more astronomers of note in attendance as the eclipse over Benedictine has been designated an official Vatican Observatory consortium event, Johnson said.

To learn more of the eclipse activities in Atchison and at Benedictine, visit the school’s website at benedictine.edu.

The eclipse occurs on the first day of the KU fall semester, Anthony-Twarog said.

“I suspect there are a lot of classes that will not meet the first day,” she said. “Our department’s classes will not meet the first day. We will be out of class or helping with the viewing.”

Contact Douglas County reporter Elvyn Jones
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