2017-08-10 / Life in Leelanau

Anticipation heightens as countdown to solar eclipse hits 11 days

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Astronomer and musician Norm Wheeler saw his one and only total eclipse of the sun in 1972 in Nova Scotia — the same one that Carly Simon sang about in her smash hit “You’re So Vain.”

That will change later this month when Wheeler heads to Nashville for the much-anticipated solar eclipse taking place on Aug. 21.

“A friend really wanted to go and he managed to find rooms,” said Wheeler, of Empire Township. “I’ve seen one so I know how much fun it is.”

The event marks the first time an eclipse has gone from coast to coast in the United States since 1918, and is the first continent-wide eclipse to be visible only from the U.S. since 1776.

The last time a total solar eclipse was seen in the contiguous United States was in February 1979, when the path of totality crossed only the Pacific Northwest.

This eclipse’s path of totality will cross the continental United States and will only be only be seen in 14 states as it makes its way from Oregon in the Pacific Northwest through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and finally, to South Carolina on the mid-Atlantic seaboard.

Everyone else in North America, as well as in parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see a partial eclipse, according to NASA.

“It’s unusual that the U.S. gets to see it,” said Wheeler, who taught astronomy at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor Township for 32 years. Wheeler retired last year and still runs the school’s Lanphier Observatory.

“Astronomers have to go a long way to get into that shadow path, so it’s unusual for astronomers not to want to go flying off in a jet somewhere,” he said.

The actual totality of the eclipse that will have the moon directly in between the sun and earth lasts only about two minutes and 15 seconds, said Wheeler. And it’s 135 seconds that can be ruined at the last moment by clouds or by a rain storm.

“You’re going a long way to take that chance,” said Wheeler, who lives in Empire Township.

So while Michigan may not be in the direct path for a total eclipse viewing, the Dune Climb offers the perfect spot to view the partial eclipse that will be seen in this state.

The eclipse will be visible from 12:50 to 3:40 p.m. The event is free, though participants will need a park pass.

But viewers should not give in to the temptation to stare directly at the sun during the eclipse as that can cause a condition known as solar retinopathy, or ‘eclipse blindness.’

When the sun is covered by the moon the natural tendency to squint goes down, said Jason M. Ziter, a physician assistant who practices in Northport. When that happens you might stare at the sun longer than you normally would, he said. During that time the cornea focuses sunlight directly on the retina of the eye and can burn it.

“Because the retina doesn’t have any pain receptors you can do a lot more damage,” Ziter said.

And the damage can often be permanent, said optometrist Dr. Andrea Seeley, of Insight Optometry in Suttons Bay.

Special glasses and filters certified for viewing the eclipse can be purchased, said Seeley, but buyer beware, as there are a lot of glasses on the market right now that are not certified.

To make sure you are buying the right equipment visit eclipse.aas.org, click on ‘resources’ and ‘solar filters and viewers’ for a list of certified brands.

Or just head to the Leland Township Library, which is joining more than 1,000 libraries across the country in holding a viewing party of the Great American Eclipse.

The library will have free certified glasses on hand for people to get a safe look at the event, as well as an expert to answer questions.

The library event is free and open to the public from noon until 4 p.m. Those who can’t be there on Aug. 21 are welcome to stop by and pick up a pair of glasses.

Enerdyne in Suttons Bays, a science-based toy store for big and little kids, will have three ways to view the eclipse set up in front of the store. One is a telescope with a filter to safely look directly at the eclipse; a second viewing will feature a telescope that projects the light from the eclipse onto a reflective sheet behind the telescope on which people can watch the progression of the moon between the sun and the earth.

A third method is the old-fashioned pinhole projector that can be made out of a cardboard box and a few other items that can be found around the house. Go to any DYI website for directions on how to make your own pinhole projector.

The store is also selling three kinds of eyeglasses, all of which can be used to safely view the eclipse, as well as solar filters for telescopes, binoculars and cameras.

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