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UNG ready for solar eclipse with glasses and planetarium program

On Aug. 21, area residents will see a sight that won't happen in northeast Georgia for another 375 years.

A swath of the country from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, will be blanketed in darkness for two minutes during the day for a rare total solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, blocking all or part of the sun, according to NASA.

"Total solar eclipses are very rare, because it's the moon's shadow falling on the earth," said Lesley Simanton-Coogan, director of the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium at the University of North Georgia (UNG). "And the moon is smaller than the Earth and its shadow is small. Only people in the middle of the shadow will see the full eclipse."

In Georgia, the eclipse will begin about 1 p.m. with total darkness happening around 2:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, which coincides with the first day of fall semester classes at UNG. Students on UNG's Blue Ridge and Gainesville campuses will receive certified glasses – 300 for Gainesville and 100 for Blue Ridge – to watch the solar eclipse. On the Dahlonega Campus, the Office of Student Involvement will host a viewing party on either the drill field or the dining hall terrace with 200 eclipse glasses available for students and astronomy-themed music. The Division of Professional and Continuing Education at UNG will hand out solar eclipse glasses at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville.

"You don't want to look directly at an eclipse," Simanton-Coogan said. "And you can't just use sunglasses. There are special glasses that you can purchase online to look at the sun safely."

The Dawsonville, Georgia, resident said NASA has instructions on how to safely view the eclipse via pinhole projection. People may create a cereal box viewer or use their crossed fingers for an indirect look. Simanton-Coogan also offers these additional tips:

  • If you are viewing the eclipse for any length of time, put on sunscreen.
  • Purchase some "ISO 12312-2 certified" safety glasses; regular sunglasses will not work.
  • To track the eclipse, make a pinhole viewer.
  • Look up the exact time for the eclipse to pass; it will begin at 1 p.m. in Georgia with total coverage around 2:30 p.m. if in the path of totality.
  • Put on certified glasses before looking at the sun and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The day before the event, UNG’s planetarium will host a public event.

"More people can spend more time learning about the eclipse on Sunday," Simanton-Coogan said.

From 1-5 p.m. Aug. 20, visitors can watch a couple of planetarium shows – "The Incredible Sun" and "Solar Superstorms" – and hear from UNG professors at the Health and Natural Science Building, 159 Sunset Drive in Dahlonega. Speaking will be Simanton-Coogan along with Dr. Greg Feiden and Dr. JB Sharma, both of the physics department, and Donna Governor of the education department. Their topics will range from historical clips to cultural mythology.

Simanton-Coogan said the stars are full of mythological references, citing several constellations with names from Greek mythology such as Andromeda, Aries, Cassiopeia, Gemini, Hercules, Orion, Pegasus, and Perseus. But the lectures will include myths other than Grecian ones.

"For example, the Cherokee have a legend that during the eclipse the sun is being swallowed by a giant frog," Simanton-Coogan said.

Visitors also can learn how to safely view the eclipse and may view the sun safely through a telescope if weather permits.

Simanton-Coogan is taking Aug. 21 off to watch the solar eclipse. She plans to use solar eclipse glasses and maybe a pinhole viewer to track the progress of the eclipse from her position in Toccoa, Georgia, which is in the 70-mile-wide "path of totality."

"It's like a giant diagonal strike across the U.S.," she said, noting UNG's Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses are not in the path but close to it. "The Blue Ridge Campus is the only UNG campus in the path of totality."

For those in the path, the sky will darken and the temperature can drop at least 20 degrees when the sun is completely blocked by the moon. At that time, residents can see the corona of the sun, which is where superheated material fly off its surface.

"I’m excited to see the corona," Simanton-Coogan said, noting this will be her first total solar eclipse. "When I was kid, I only saw a partial one."

Several state parks in Georgia are planning viewing events and, for residents who cannot venture outdoors, NASA will stream the eclipse online. Directions and additional information about UNG’s planetarium are available online.f

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