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Eclipse Experts: More Than Just a Sunglasses Fashion Statement

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The balloon bursting at 96,000 feet. Courtesy of Colin White

Though it sounds like a pitch for a pyramid scheme, viewing this eclipse on August 21 is really the opportunity of a lifetime. It will be hundreds of years before something of its kind can be viewed here, and we will all be gone by then, no matter what the diet and workout regimen. So, unless hypersleep is invented soon, the best bet would be to take the advice of these local sky watchers, and appreciate this phenomena with the knowledge that you won’t get rich quick. Unless you own a hotel in the ideal eclipse-viewing area.


Colin White

A member of the Science Advisory Board at ScienceWorks in Ashland

RVM: How long have you been interested in studying the sky and what draws you to it?

CW: I have been interested in astronomy ever since I was a kid. As an adult, it was the comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 that encouraged to get involved in the hobby more seriously. I guess what draws me to it is thinking about the billions of galaxies out there that provide astronomers with a view back in time and the fact that there may be other lifeforms out there who are possibly thinking the same thing.       

RVM: What is your favorite feature of this hobby?

CW: There are many different aspects to this hobby, but my interest primarily lies in our solar system, the space missions that are sent out to explore it, and also the ever expanding scientific knowledge gathered not only by professional astronomers, but also increasingly by amateur ones as well.     

RVM: What is the most interesting thing you have seen through a telescope?

CW: For me it is showing other people, especially children, things they may have never seen through a telescope before. I find it rewarding to see the excitement when children see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn for the first time.    

RVM: What is significant about this particular eclipse?

CW: One significant thing is that it is 99 years since an eclipse traversed the complete continental United States from the West Coast to the East Coast. The changes in technology over this time period have been significant, which means most probably more people will see this total eclipse than any one that has occurred before. I have never seen a total solar eclipse and I suspect many other people will be seeing one for the first time as well. Another key thing for me is that I am involved in a NASA project with North Medford High School Students to launch a balloon to 90,000 feet and record and send real-time video of the eclipse to the Internet, which will allow anyone anywhere in the world to see the eclipse as it happens. This has never been done before and it is a very exciting project to be involved in.  

RVM: Can you tell us more details about the balloon launch?

CW: We had two objectives. The first was to test a backup tracking system and the second was to try and capture the balloon bursting on video. Both tests succeeded. Attached is an image of the balloon bursting at 96,000 feet. On eclipse day we will be launching two balloons from Dayville in Oregon (which is on the path of totality). These balloons will collect scientific data during the eclipse and also record images and video of the eclipsed sun and the shadow of the eclipse as it travels over the surface of the earth. Examples of data we will be collecting include radiation and UV data. We will also have some bacteria samples on one of the balloons to see the effect of the upper atmosphere on the bacteria. The upper atmosphere is similar to the atmosphere of Mars and NASA scientists are interested to see how this bacteria behaves in such an environment.

Images of various balloon test launches we have made can be found on the student web site for the project at mfrhab.org. The main website for the NASA project is at eclipse.montana.edu. Lastly, the realtime video stream of the eclipse can be accessed at eclipse.stream.live.


And from Erin Scott from ScienceWorks:

RVM: What is special about ScienceWorks’ eclipse event?

ES: Ashland will be experiencing 93% totality of the eclipse. You will not see the distinctive corona (aura, halo, etc) that a total eclipse has from our location, but it will be pretty close. The main benefit of our event is that you don’t have to GO anywhere to enjoy the eclipse and learn about solar and astronomy science for the day. ODOT is predicting MASSIVE traffic and backups on state highways and even the interstate. Campsites and hotels are sold out all through central Oregon, in the eclipse’s path. Additionally, the state just closed off some of the wilderness areas that folks were planning on watching the eclipse from due to wildfires. It’s going to be hard to travel, especially with little ones, and so experiencing the eclipse from the comfort of ScienceWorks’ field is a great alternative for families.


John Bunyan

President of the Grants Pass Astronomers.

RVM: How long have you been interested in studying the sky and what draws you to it?

JB: I got interested in 2002 after seeing the Perseid meteor showers in California. That sparked my interest and from there I joined a local astronomy club and borrowed one of their telescopes and then bought my own. My biggest attraction to astronomy has been astrophotography. If you look on my site (www.pbase.com/johnbunyan) you can see the observatory and equipment I have at my house. I do travel to other places in the US to get to clear and dark sites like the Ochoco Mtns. Arizona and New Mexico.

RVM: What is the most interesting thing you have seen through a telescope?

JB: I’ve seen the solar panels on the international space station through the telescope. The transit of Venus from Mauna Loa, Hawaii. A supernova a couple hours after it happened. A minor planet move through an image I was taking of 3 galaxies that I didn’t expect. The large and small Magellanic cloud from Antarctica.  

RVM: What is significant about this particular eclipse?

JB: I’m part of a NASA project. I am a mentor along with three other mentors helping 10 High school students from North Medford High School launch a high altitude balloon to 80,000 to 100,000′ and send live video to NASA for broadcast on NASA TV on eclipse day. We are one of 57 teams spread out along the path of totality from the west coast to the east coast. You can read about some of this at mfr.hab.org. We will be launching from Dayville, Oregon and streaming live video to eclipse.stream.live which you can watch from anywhere in the world.

I’m also helping 3 other students from North Medford High School image the corona during totality and sending the images to Google for the Mega Movie Project that will be shown about 4 pm on the 21st. This is something you can only do during totality and for us that will be two minutes and two seconds.

RVM: Is your group holding an event associated with the eclipse? If so, what are the details?

JB: Yes. Our club is setting up at our usual place for First Fridays downtown Oldtown Grants Pass on the corner of 6th and G Street behind the visitor’s center. We will set up at 8 am with solar telescopes and solar glasses to give out to the public while they last.


Victoria C. Leo

I’m a transformational healer, multiple masters degrees and medical certifications, with programs to stop chronic physical pain and to blast away the deep causes of emotional pain, so people can lose weight forever, be successful in career or business and take control of stress for a happier and healthier life.

RVM: How long have you been interested in studying the sky and what draws you to it?
VL: I have been an amateur astronomer since I was 5, with science fair ribbons to prove it.  The sky is full of beauty and wonders, with science discovering amazing, unexpected new planets and rewriting what we thought we knew about our own solar system.  But I love to just spend hours soaking up crystal-clear skies at my healing center outside Ashland.  It’s meditation, really, transcendence induced by the grandeur of the heavens.

I was an astronomy major but had to switch when the Chem department chair refused to allow me to enroll in the necessary classes, said he’d have a female major over his dead body. I was dirt poor and couldn’t afford a lawsuit. So I switched to bio-anthropology and had a very different career in health and psychology.  But I retain my first love as an avocation. My husband Rick Baird is an avid astrophotographer.

RVM: What is significant about this particular eclipse?  
VL: Totality is visible across the USA, something that won’t re-occur for 25 years!

RVM: What impact will wildfires have on the viewing of this eclipse?
VL: Some areas will be off limits, so more of the million+ visitors to the totality zone will have to move. It’s likely to be hazy – photos will be impacted.  But even if the spectacular corona effects aren’t very visible, we will all still have the amazing, powerful and eerie effects in full force.  The sudden temperature drops leading to a stronger and stronger cold wind, and then, as totality approaches, the exciting, frightening impact of a wall of blackness rushing toward us, and then enveloping us.  For those in the Rogue Valley, we will get 90% of totality, so we won’t see the corona, but the temperature drop, the wind, the utter eeriness of the light.  It’s not a normal twilight; it feels ethereal.  And that steadily growing wind … If it doesn’t send shivers into your very soul, you’re not alive.  

RVM: What are some safety concerns that the public should have about this eclipse?

VL: Forget about the welding goggles and the viewers made from cardboard boxes! Get a pair of reputably-made specialty eclipse goggles and be sure you’re safe.  They cost $1-2, at Science Works, other large grocery chain stores, and from Southern Oregon Skywatchers, or even Amazon. But do it now; you need them on eclipse day.

The key is to put them on–tape them in place–as soon as the eclipse starts. You can’t detect permanent vision damage until it’s too late–and much damage is permanent!  

Be particularly vigilant with children. Keep them inside if they are too young to 100 percent reliably do what they’re told to the letter. This is no time for parental illusions; their vision is at stake!  If they are with you, tape the goggles to their faces to ensure that they can’t take them off and keep them within arm’s length at all times.  You can’t rely on them to understand the seriousness of this!  Few children have the patience to stare at the sun for hours so let them outside for short periods, with those taped goggles, then let them go inside and watch one of the many live feeds that NASA, National Geographic and a thousand individuals will make available.

Get a lounge chair and a place where you can see the sun, tape on your goggles and really soak up the sights and sounds and feels of this utterly indescribable natural spectacle.

I saw my first and only other eclipse as part of a university expedition in 1972, the one that Carly Simon immortalized in her song “You’re So Vain.” “You flew your Lear jet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun…” The memory remains with me.  

This event belongs on every human being’s bucket list.


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