Interact: "Ring of fire" solar eclipse

A Highland family plans to drive six hours to see the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

“It’s a huge event — for a total eclipse to happen in North America is pretty much a once in a lifetime. I’ve been planning the trip since December 2016,” Highland resident Angela Holmquist said. “You will be able to see it here, but you won’t be able to see the sun get blotted out completely — totality will be Paducah, Kentucky, and we will be staying with family about 20 minutes from there.”

This is the first total solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979.

“On average there are two solar eclipses on Earth each year, so it’s not the solar eclipse that’s rare. What’s rare is to have a total solar eclipse across North America,” said Gregg Williams, planetarium director at the Merrillville Community Planetarium.

According to NASA’s website, a solar eclipse happens when the moon casts a shadow on Earth, fully or partially, blocking the sun’s light in some areas.

If weather permits, observers within the “path of totality,” located between Eastern Oregon and South Carolina, will be able to see the sun’s corona. Depending on location, totality — meaning the sun is fully blocked — will last two minutes and 40 seconds.

“There are parts of the sun you can only see during a total eclipse. The corona is a crown around the sun and that’s what I can’t wait to see. I’ve read that even though the sun is covered for only a few minutes, nature actually begins to prepare for night,” Holmquist said.

Williams agrees and says nature does prepare for night.

“I’ve been the planetarium director for the last 35 years and I’ve never seen a total eclipse,” Williams said. “There are things that only happen if you are at the location of totality. It has effects — birds begin to act like it’s time to go to bed, you can see planets in the sky; it’s an all-inspiring event. Some say it’s even a spiritual event.”

The entire duration for the solar eclipse depending on your location will be about a three-hour period.

Williams said for safety reasons he is supplying all eight schools within the Merrillville Community School Corporation with solar viewers. Williams hopes that onlookers who won’t have solar viewers or won’t be able to watch the eclipse in a public observatory setting, will watch it on the internet or TV.

“It’s hard to make sure people get information right to watch the eclipse safely. It’s so easy for people to half listen and end up in a bad situation,” Williams said.

Holmquist agrees and plans to buy her family solar glasses on Amazon.

“In this day and age you’re going to have people trying to whip out their phones to record this and they are going to burn their retinas,” Holmquist said. “Whether you are using a camera or just your eyes you need a filter to see the eclipse.”

For more information, visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov.

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