All eyes — safely — on upcoming solar eclipse

Ron Thompson of Southern Maine Astronomers, left, Diana Currier of the Windham Public Library, and event attendees Lucille Woodis, Florence Moreau, Henry Florman and Sonja Florman try out their special eclipse glasses. 

WINDHAM — Several recent events at the Windham Public Library have centered on fun in the sun as people across the country get ready for a solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

In preparation for the celestial event where the moon passes between the sun and Earth and will completely cover the sun from view, the library held two talks with a member of the Southern Maine Astronomers to provide information on the science behind the eclipse and how people can safely view it.

According to NASA, the “path of totality” where people will see a total eclipse will be in a narrow window from Oregon to South Carolina. Other locations across the country such as Maine will only see a partial eclipse.

“Even a partial eclipse is fun to experience,” said Ron Thompson, director and treasurer of the Southern Maine Astronomers.

Thompson gave two eclipse presentations on Monday, Aug. 7, that were organized by Diana Currier,  the library Children’s Room coordinator.

Several factors all have to converge in order to make a complete solar eclipse possible, Thompson said, including that it has to be a new moon and the moon needs to be at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, among others.

“That’s the key – they have to be perfectly aligned,” he said.

While Maine won’t be treated to a full eclipse,  a roughly 58 percent partial eclipse that will peak between 2:30 and 3 p.m. depending on location will be visible. In the Portland area, the entire span of the eclipse in various stages is expected to last from about 1:30 to 4 p.m.

Through his presentation, Thompson emphasized the danger of looking directly at the sun without proper protective equipment for the eyes.

“Believe me that the sun is nothing to mess with,” Thompson said.

Focusing on the sun without specially designed eye-wear, he said, can cause permanent eye damage whether or not an eclipse is taking place. He advised eclipse gazers to not aim cameras or telescopes at the sun without a filter (ever), and to only use specific eyewear when viewing an eclipse.

“If it doesn’t say ‘safe for direct solar viewing,’ please don’t use it,” he said.

Currier said that the library received numerous pairs of solar viewing glasses with help from the Science‐Technology Activities and Resources Library Education Network, also known as START Net. Those who attended the events with Thompson received glasses to take home.

Thompson said that parental supervision is particularly important for children using the glasses, and that anyone wearing them should face away from the sun before putting them on and taking them off, and should hold them in place with their hands so that they glasses do not blow away in any wind.

Thompson, who lives in Yarmouth and is a retired telecommunications professional and Air National Guard member, said that his interest in astronomy started in 1957 “trying to find Sputnik.”

“I just love sharing this stuff with people,” he said.

Thompson said that he will be giving several similar talks leading up to the eclipse, including one in Cape Elizabeth on Saturday, Aug. 19. He will attend a watch party at L.L. Bean in Freeport on the day of the eclipse.

Currier said the the library will have it’s own watch party on Aug. 21 and the eclipse will be livestreamed for people to watch from inside the library. The library event will also emphasize safe viewing practices for anyone who decides to use proper equipment and view the eclipse outside.

Two of the attendees at one of the Aug. 7 events with Thompson were Florence Moreau and Lucille Woodis, both of Windham, who are planning a road trip down to South Carolina to see the total eclipse.

“We never know whether we’d see another one,” said Moreau, pointing out that she’s 78.

Thompson, who said he saw a total solar eclipse in 1970 and that it was “just fantastic,” advised anyone seeing the full event to forget about taking pictures and enjoy the moment.

“When the total eclipse happens, just drop everything and enjoy it,”  he said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Ron Thompson of Southern Maine Astronomers, left, Diana Currier of the Windham Public Library, and event attendees Lucille Woodis, Florence Moreau, Henry Florman and Sonja Florman try out their special eclipse glasses.

Henry Florman of Windham looks at the sun through a solar telescope at an event held at the Windham Public Library ahead of the Aug. 21 eclipse.