UNG event will prepare public for dark day
Scientists at the University of North Georgia are ready to help prepare the public for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a total eclipse.
On Aug. 21, about 2:30 p.m. the eclipse will reach its maximum coverage in this area, and the day before, on Sunday, Aug. 20, UNG will host an afternoon of free events for the public.
Lesley Simanton-Coogan, director of the George E. Coleman, Sr. Planetarium, said families will have opportunities that day to learn about the sun and astronomy as well as prepare for the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse.
“I’m glad that people are getting excited about the eclipse . . . and for good reason,” said Simanton-Coogan. “It is a very rare event. A total eclipse will occur in any area of the earth only once every 375 years,” she said. “Many people have seen a partial eclipse, but we are right on the edge of the path of the total eclipse.”
Programming will go on from 1-5 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Health and Natural Sciences building on the Dahlonega campus, located on Sunset Drive up the hill from the campus dining facility on West Main Street.
The Coleman Planetarium will offer two different videos displaying intense, close-up images of the sun on the facility’s Digistar 5 full-dome planetarium projection system. One film is an approximately 15-minute video, “The Incredible Sun,” with a simulation of the eclipse viewed from the ground, and the other is an approximately 30-minute film, “Solar Super Storm,” which incorporates both simulations of and real images of the sun.
There is room inside the planetarium for about 50 people, said Simanton-Coogan, and UNG will be cycling through the two programs throughout the afternoon, probably showing more of the shorter video to accommodate the crowds.
In addition, UNG professors will be presenting a number of lectures on eclipse or sun-related topics in the auditorium of the HNS building. The 15-30 minute presentations will cover such topics as geometry of the eclipse and how an eclipse happens, being prepared to watch the eclipse and cultural mythology that can surround the sun. Check the planetarium website (ung.edu/planetarium) for a full listing of programs.
Weather permitting, telescopes will be available for viewing the real sun safely, with special filters.
The program for the public happens to fall on the day that many students will be arriving on campus, as classes begin the following day, and lots serving student housing might be full, said Simanton-Coogan.
On Sunday the public can park in the large deck behind the Smith House as well as in any spaces marked F/S (Faculty/Staff) or other lots around campus.
A 99.77 percent partial eclipse will be viewed from the Dahlonega campus, with that percentage increasing to 100 percent as you travel north into Fannin, White, Union, Habersham and Stephens counties in Georgia.
And while 99.7 sounds like it’s almost the same as 100, there is supposed to be a big difference in terms of what it will look like here and in the total coverage area, said Simanton-Coogan.
A 99 percent partial eclipse is 10,000 times brighter than a total eclipse, she said, because the sun is so bright. In Dahlonega we will see a sky similar to a dark, stormy day, while in the total eclipse area the stars and planets will be visible for the up to 2 1/2 minutes of total darkness, and the temperature could drop as much as 20 degrees.
The most ideal place to be in the moment of totality, said Simanton-Coogan, is in a field in the middle of nowhere. Any visible stars will be diminished by street lights.
You won't be able to look at the eclipse with a naked eye, said Simanton-Coogan. A limited number of certified viewing glasses will be distributed to attendees at the Aug. 21 program as long as the supply lasts, she said.
While eclipse glasses are widely available in stores and online, Simanton-Coogan warns that some available glasses might not be safe, even though they are labeled as meeting the ISO 12312-2 safety standard for filters (which should be printed on them).
You can check the list of reputable manufacturers and authorized dealers at the American Astronomical Society’s website (eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters), said Simanton-Coogan.
To test your glasses yourself, when looking through them you should be able to see nothing other than the sun or something glowing, like the filament in a tungsten light bulb; no faint outline of trees or grass or anything else should be visible, she said.
In addition to programs for the general public, UNG has been providing area teachers with information, lesson plans, activities for students, and eclipse safety in presentations at teacher workshops.
The final teacher program is scheduled for Aug. 12.