On August 21, the best total eclipse in 38 years will cross the entire U.S., turning hordes of everyday folks into amature astrononmers, or at least skygazers (see “Totally Eclipsed,” page 8). “I-25 northbound is likely to be a parking lot,” warns astronomer Dr. Douglas Duncan, 66, director of the Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado, who’s been chasing total eclipses since 1970.
Duncan has dedicated his career to educating the public on the wonders of the sky. He’s a science commentator on Colorado Public Radio, has appeared on the History Channel and BBC Horizon, leads educational trips to eclipses, and helps fellow astronomers better communicate with the public. And he can’t wait for August.
“A total eclipse is like the end of the world. There is a black hole in the sky where the sun should be. Pink flames of solar prominences and long silver streamers of the corona stretch across the sky. Total eclipses are also important scientifically. They let us see parts of the sun’s atmosphere that are otherwise invisible,” Duncan says.
A graduate of the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Santa Cruz, Duncan says Front Rangers who stay home can expect to see a 95 percent eclipse, meaning 5 percent of the sun will still shine through. “It’s the difference between listening to your favorite band on earbuds, versus the 12th row at a concert. Unless it’s a total eclipse, it will never get totally dark.”
Even at 95 percent, however, eye protection is a must, and, failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness. That’s why Duncan is passionate about helping the entire country become equipped with safe $2 eclipse-watching glasses that are 1,000-times darker than sunglasses. Before the big day, he’s encouraging people to visit his eclipse-watch.com website to learn how to purchase them. Do it soon. During the 2012 eclipse, the Fiske Planetarium sold 20,000 pairs; McGuckin Hardware in Boulder sold 10,000 pairs.
And get for ready things to get really weird.
“In a total eclipse, people cry, scream, shout, and celebrate,” says Duncan. “It gets cold and animals do strange things. There’s a lot of astonishing profanity. During a previous eclipse, I was with a bunch of college students who practically lost their minds.”