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Eclipsing 2017: Another solar event set to occur next week

If you’re an aficionado of Hollywood “B” movies from the 1950s, you’ve seen this aura before.

Same for the black-and-white TV shows that followed throughout that next decade.

Those were the productions, which, because of shooting schedules and budget constraints, often had to depict nighttime events in the daytime.

Enterprising directors would apply heavy filters to the cameras, casting whole scenes in a sort of pseudo-dusk.

Stuntmen drove cars with the headlights on at high noon – as they navigated roads with lengthening shadows.

Actors emoted in outdoor scenes under dark (but not that dark) skies carrying clouds that were still visible, even though the script said it was just past midnight.

That’s how it was for real on a Monday afternoon in Morgantown back on Aug. 21, 2017.

A solar eclipse doing a shadowy uncoil from Oregon to South Carolina was the director for this one.

With her certified, eclipse-safe glasses fully docked on her nose and in orbit around her ears, let it be known that Anna Brusoe loved every interstellar second of it.

“It was huge,” said Brusoe, then a middle-schooler in the University City who was obsessed with all things outer space.

These days, she’s a freshman at Duke University (mechanical engineering and piano performance) who is still obsessed with all things outer space.

She even wrote and illustrated a published book, at the age of 16, on pioneering women scientists and researchers whose work in their disciplines took them well past Earth’s orbit – at least metaphorically.

“You watch something like that,” she said this past Thursday, “and you really get a sense of just the vastness of it all.”

There goes the sun

On April 8, she’ll again be looking up from the campus in Durham.

Another solar eclipse is putting on a celestial show that day.

North Carolina isn’t in the swath of 100% totality for the event – neither are Morgantown or north-central West Virginia – but plenty of places will be, astronomers and other space watchers say.

That includes Erie, Pa., and Cleveland, which will be the closest to here.

If the weather behaves, an estimated 32 million people, from Mexico to Montreal, are expected to thrill at the sight of the moon blocking out the sun, our solar system’s largest star.

Astronomers are projecting that eclipse-watchers here in Morgantown will witness nearly 95% of the sun’s rays covered in moon shadow in a true star-trek beginning around 2 p.m.

The peak time for watching, they say, should hit at 3:16 p.m., with the sun again shining in full glory by 4:30 p.m.

AccuWeather is calling for a high of 70 that day, with a bit of cloud cover.

Don’t blink (no, do blink)

Meanwhile, at least 12 school districts down from Erie in Pennsylvania in that 100% path are closing for the day.

In Monongalia County’s district, though, it will be just another day – except that it won’t be.

Several of the elementary and middle schools already have watch activities planned.

The once-and-future space farmers in Lindsay Smalls’ science classroom at Westwood Middle are more than ready, their teacher said.  

Her sixth-graders are taking part in NASA’s “Planting the Moon” challenge, which is part of the planned Artemis missions that will (eventually, hopefully) put American astronauts on Mars.

And in the collective lifetimes of the class.

Getting to Mars, meanwhile, means colonizing the moon first – since Earth’s satellite will be the actual launch pad for the Red Planet, given the deep space itinerary.

The Westwood students are currently planting backyard garden staples such as carrots, peas and lettuce in a man-made approximation of regolith, which is that dusty, grainy layer of rock and minerals coving the lunar surface like a tablecloth.

NASA has already singled them out for their resourcefulness and inventiveness in devising the water delivery system to irrigate crops in either zero gravity or low gravity.

These days, the class is charting the minutes and seconds to next Monday’s eclipse, just like a countdown on Launch Pad 39-A at Cape Canaveral.

“They’re invested,” their teacher said.

Roger that, said Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr., who likes the idea of one big teachable moment in the skies over his district.

However, he did chuckle at some of the directives that came from his colleagues in the central office, as they helped with lesson plans for the upcoming eclipse.

“Everybody talked about eye protection with the glasses and viewers,” he said, “and of course they stressed to not look at the sun directly.”

“A lot of us just kind of laughed and said, ‘Well, you’re not supposed to do that, anyway.’”

‘Then, you’re amazed’

Anyway and either way, look for a “lively eclipse,” James R. Riordon wrote recently in ScienceNews magazine.

The moon, he informed his readers, will be relatively closer to Earth in April, thus making the orb appear especially large.

And the sun, as he noted, will be in its “solar maximum” phase April 8.

That means it just might shoot out a puff of hot gas or two from its surface – a phenomenon known as “a coronal mass ejection” – which could also be visible.

Add that to the fleetingness of it all, to go with the vastness of it all, that Brusoe touched on earlier.

There won’t be another eclipse in the skies over North America for the next 20 years after this one, Riordon wrote.

During the one in 2017, the aptly named Adam Heavener, who was then a WVU senior biology major, enjoyed writing his own space opera as he watched from the Mountainlair Plaza.

Heavener was regarding the eclipse through a square of glass cut from a welder’s helmet by his dad.

“You look at it, and at first you feel really small,” he said.

“Then, you’re amazed that you’re here – and that you’re part of it.”