Planners at Lowell Observatory are in the final stages of preparation for next week's Solar Eclipse Experience at the Madras High School football field and adjoining Performing Arts Center.
The two-day event will feature presentations by Lowell Observatory's team of world-class astronomers and educators, educational activities in tandem with Madras students and teachers, and, of course, viewing of the eclipse. The festivities will reach well beyond the borders of Jefferson County, as the Science Channel will broadcast live to a world audience via its website and social media outlets. (The Science Channel's Facebook page alone reaches 7.2 million followers.)
The Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience begins on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 20, at the Madras Performing Arts Center. At 6 p.m., observatory director and sun expert Dr. Jeff Hall will kick off a trio of 30-minute presentations with "What to Expect When You're Expecting an Eclipse," an overview of observing eclipses and what scientists learn from them.
That will be followed by observatory historian Kevin Schindler's "The Bizarre Cultural and Scientific History of Eclipses," at 7 p.m., and astronomer Dr. Gerard van Belle's "The Pluto Vote: One Astronomer's Personal Story," at 8 p.m.
Following those programs, astronomers, educators, and various volunteers will host a star party until 10 p.m. on the high school's football field. Guests will have the opportunity to peer through telescopes at Saturn, star clusters, nebula, galaxies, and more. As a thank you to the community of Madras for playing host to this and other eclipse events in the area, all of Sunday evening's activities will be free. (However, School District 509-J will be charging $20 per standard-sized vehicle, per day, through Monday, Aug. 21, with parking on a first-come, first-served basis.)
The real fun starts Monday morning. Doors to the performing arts center and football field open at 6 a.m. and astronomer programs begin at 7 a.m. Those will continue at the top of every hour until 2 p.m. (except at 10 a.m., when the eclipse is nearing the total phase). A full description of those programs is available at the Lowell Observatory Eclipse Experience website www.lowellsolareclipse.com.
The eclipse begins at 9:06 a.m. and for the ensuing hour and 13 minutes, the sun will gradually become more and more covered. During that time, astronomers, educators, and volunteers will help guests view the partial phase of the eclipse through a variety of filtered telescopes, viewing glasses, projection stands, and other safe viewing devices. Astronomers will describe, via the stadium's speaker system, the various stages of the eclipse and phenomena to look for.
During totality, which lasts from 10:19:34 to 10:21:36, everyone can (and should) safely view the eclipse without the aid of any protective viewing instruments. Once totality ends, it will be back to viewing the partial eclipse with the safe viewing devices until the event ends at 11:41 a.m.
The $20 admission fee for Monday's events gives complete access to all the day's activities, including the astronomer talks, science demonstrations, eclipse viewing, professional astronomers and educators, gift shops that will feature eclipse memorabilia, and school-run concession stands whose proceeds go to participating Madras schools. Guests will also receive a commemorative pair of eclipse viewing glasses.
Lowell has sold more than 2,000 tickets in advance of the event, but with a cap of 4,000, plenty of tickets are still available and may be purchased before Aug. 21, at www.lowellsolareclipse.com/attend-the-event/purchase-tickets. Tickets will also be available at the gate, as supplies last.
Lowell Observatory is putting on the event to help spread its mission of science and education.
Founded in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894, Lowell is a nonprofit organization with a dual mission of carrying out astronomical research and sharing the results of that research with the public. Some notable achievements by its scientists include the first detection of the expanding nature of the universe in 1912 and the discovery of Pluto in 1930.
Today, Lowell astronomers are involved in searches for planets around other stars, studies of cannibal galaxies, and much more. The observatory's premier instrument is its Discovery Channel Telescope, the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States.
In terms of education and outreach, Lowell welcomes nearly 100,000 visitors per year to its Flagstaff facility and also partners with schools and other groups in creating popular outreach experiences that help excite people about the wonders of the universe. The 2017 total solar eclipse is just such an event.
Observatory Director Jeffrey Hall said, "Our team is pleased to work with the students, teachers, community leaders, and other residents of Madras in creating an event that reflects our values of education and outreach, while producing a lifelong memory for all those who participate."