Harford prepares for solar eclipse

It's been about 70 years since a total solar eclipse has been seen in the United States, so astronomers are getting excited about the celestial event this Monday.

"Anything that's rare like this, it's exciting," Rick Fensch, president of the Harford County Astronomical Society, said. "For the past 70-some years people have had to leave the United States to see a total eclipse. Not too many people do that."

To celebrate, Harford County libraries are holding special events, including some earlier this week to make a pinhole projector to view the eclipse.

The Astronomical Society is hosting visitors on Monday at the observatory on the campus of Harford Community College.

When the moon circles the earth, which takes 29 days, it is typically above or below the sun, Frensch explained. When the moon is full, the earth is between the moon and the sun. When there is no moon, it is between the earth and the sun.

Most of the time, the moon is above or below the sun.

"But every once in a while, it will cross right in the middle," Fensch said.

That's what will happen Monday, beginning around 1 p.m., when viewers will "start to see the sun being blocked by the moon," he said.

What's special about this eclipse, Fensch said, is "everyone on the planet gets to witness it the same day."

Typically, views would have to travel to Europe or Australia or be on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

In Harford County, because of where it is geographically, eclipse viewers won't be able to see the entire sun blocked by the moon, the totality, Fensch said. They'll only see about 80 percent eclipsed, scheduled to happen between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m.

Fensch cautioned that anyone who plans to view the eclipse must use solar eclipse viewing glasses, made of a material that blocks 99.9 percent of light.

"Safety is very important. Sunglasses won't cut it," he said.

Members of the Astronomical Society will attend the viewing at the observatory Monday and will be available to answer questions. Three to four telescopes, equipped with solar filters, will be available to see the eclipse. They will also have 200 pairs of solar eclipse glasses available; Fensch said children can keep them or leave them for the next eclipse, which is in seven years.

Two projectors in the classrooms at the observatory will show the live broadcasts from NASA, in the event Monday is cloudy and the eclipse won't be visible.

NASA's broadcast will also be shown at the Aberdeen, Abingdon, Edgewood, Havre de Grace, Joppa, Norrisville and Whiteford libraries Monday during family-friendly solar eclipse parties from noon to 4 p.m.

Library customers will also be able to view the partial eclipse outdoors using solar eclipse glasses (while supplies last) or make an easy projection device to watch the eclipse safely, both weather permitting. In addition, guests will have an opportunity to learn about the sun, space, what makes an eclipse and how to view it safely.

Other library events in conjunction with the solar eclipse include:

Sun, Moon & Stars, Saturday 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Havre de Grace Library. The program, for children ages birth to 5 years old, features space-themed stories, songs and a craft to make, all inspired by the upcoming eclipse.

Pre-Solar Eclipse Party, Saturday 1 to 3 p.m. at the Norrisville Library. Customers will watch videos of astronomers and NASA scientists explaining what will take place during the solar eclipse. Guests can also pick up a pair of solar viewing glasses (while supplies last) or create a pinhole projection device to view the eclipse.

Throughout August, the Abingdon and Whiteford libraries will offer Story Walk: Eclipse, which encourages families to take a walk around the library while reading a story about the solar eclipse. Other activities also will be offered.

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