Frosty Drew, region prepare for ‘Great American Eclipse’ this afternoon
Frosty Drew, region prepare for ‘Great American Eclipse’ this afternoon
August 21, 2017 10:46AM
By Cynthia Drummond
Sun staff writer
CHARLESTOWN — Southern New England may not be in the path of a total solar eclipse this afternoon, but this natural phenomenon, which last occurred nearly 100 years ago, is still generating plenty of interest. The most important factor will be the weather, and meteorologist Bill Simpson at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., said it is expected to remain sunny and clear.
The total eclipse will be restricted to what astronomers call the “path of totality,” a 70-mile-wide band extending from Oregon to South Carolina. Simpson said people were asking him about weather conditions in total eclipse states. One woman, who was flying to Missouri, wanted to make sure the weather would be clear before she bought her plane ticket.
“This lady had a birthday,” he said. “All the relatives are meeting and they were concerned about the outlook, so I guess it’s a big deal.”
The rest of the country, including the Northeast, will experience a partial eclipse, which doesn’t receive as much attention but is still a dramatic astronomical event. In southern New England, the eclipse will darken just over half of the sun. It will begin at about 1:30 p.m. and end just after 4 p.m.
Astronomer Scott MacNeill, who is also the Director of the Frosty Drew Observatory, said this event is being called the “Great American Eclipse” because everyone in the country will have an opportunity to see it.
“What’s good about this eclipse — and this is what’s really amazing about it — is that the entire continental United States is going to see the eclipse,” he said. “It won’t be total everywhere, but everyone’s going to experience some form of a partial eclipse.”
MacNeill explained that a solar eclipse is the result of the new moon passing between the earth and the sun.
“We don’t always see it pass visibly between the earth and the sun where it blocks the sun out,” he said. “But at times, the orbital plane of the moon ... will intersect or cross earth’s orbital plane. If that happens during a new moon, then the moon will pass in front of the sun from specific locations on earth.”
In states experiencing a total eclipse, the sky will grow dark and some of the brighter stars will become visible, but even our partial eclipse will produce some noticeable effects.
“It will appear almost like a soft daylight,” MacNeill said. “I wouldn’t say twilight, but it will definitely feel like it’s a softer day outside. If you were driving around and you didn’t know there was an eclipse, you’d be like, ‘Why is it so dark right now?’”
In Charlestown, the Frosty Drew Observatory in Ninigret Park will open to the public for eclipse-viewing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and MacNeill said he is expecting a very large crowd.
“If it’s clear, I’m expecting probably well over 1,000 people,” he said. “My email is full of people writing in about the eclipse. I’m getting voice mails every hour about the eclipse event.”
The observatory will provide safe devices for people to watch the phenomenon. Total eclipses can be viewed for a short time with the naked eye, but a partial eclipse is a different story. People can be permanently blinded by ultra violet light if they watch a partial eclipse without protection.
“We’re going to have a couple of telescopes set up,” MacNeill said. “We’re going to have a hydrogen alpha telescope set up that you can safely look through. We’ll have a telescope with a white light filter on it, which will allow views of the solar photosphere [the visible surface of the sun.] That will be another safe option for people to look through.”
There will be a third telescope equipped with a camera that will transmit live images onto screens and monitors around the observatory property, as well as a limited number of eclipse safety glasses available for people to share. The observatory also has some specific rules of what people can and cannot bring. For safety reasons, no unauthorized devices like telescopes and binoculars will be allowed at the event.
“We get a lot of people that come out with really shady devices, and they’re dangerous,” MacNeill said. “They’ll set them up and if they want to blind themselves, that’s up to them, but the problem is if they’re setting up close to where we are, visitors are not going to say, ‘Is this a Frosty Drew telescope or is this a private telescope?’ and they’ll unknowingly walk right up and stick their face in it.”
Another important safety precaution is to dress for a day in the sun. Visitors are welcome to bring blankets and beach umbrellas.
“People are largely going to be spending the day in the sun,” MacNeill said. “They’re going to want to wear sunblock. If they have a hat to shade them from the sun. They should be dressing like they’re going to the beach for the day.”
On Monday between 1 and 4 p.m., North America will experience a solar eclipse. For those living in the “path of totality” it will be a total eclipse, but New Englanders will be getting a partial eclipse. Here are four places that are holding watch parties in the region (NASA is live-streaming the total eclipse if you’d rather see that):
The Westerly Library will host “The Great American Solar Eclipse Viewing,” in Wilcox Park, 44 Broad St., Westerly, from 1 to 4:15 p.m. The group will meet on the esplanade across from Westerly Town Hall. There will be a craft for children as they wait for the eclipse, as well as information about how the eclipse will work, a brief history of solar eclipses and proper safety guidelines for viewing the eclipse. The event is appropriate for ages 3 and older. For more information, call 401-596-2877, ext. 316.
Frosty Drew Observatory & Sky Theatre , 61 Park Lane, Ninigret Park, Charlestown, will have solar telescopes set up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for observers to catch a view of the partial solar eclipse. They will also have solar projectors set up showcasing projected views of the sun and eclipse shades on hand for safe observing. A limited supply of eclipse glasses are available for visitors to use. Eclipse glasses will also be available for purchase for those interested in owning a pair. There is a suggested donation of $1 for the event.
The Ashaway Free Library, 15 Knight St., Ashaway, will host a drop-in solar-eclipse viewing event from 1 to 4 p.m. The library has 50 pairs of solar filter glasses to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning at 1 p.m. on the day of the eclipse. The library will also have a computer displaying NASA’s live-stream of the eclipse for those who would like to see it in all its totality. Call 401-377-2770 for more information.
The Groton Public Library, 52 Newtown Road, Groton, will host Amy Stone of the Thames Amateur Astronomical Society, who will be available to answer general questions on solar eclipses from 1:30 to 4 p.m. She will have the society’s solar telescope for the public to view sun flares, prominences and sun spots. The library has received 1,000 pairs of solar viewing glasses to be given out to the public for this special event.
Do you know of any other viewing parties? Where are you watching the eclipse? Tell us in the comments section!