If you don’t know that this Monday afternoon, a solar eclipse will captivate the imaginations of Americans from Oregon to South Carolina, then you may have been living under a rock.
But if you know a lot about the eclipse, then you understand that two enormous rocks are about to come into alignment along the path of light from a giant ball of gases.
Preparations in Franklin County for the eclipse have been underway for several months now, and it promises to be a well-organized and well-protected series of events that will make this first total eclipse on the U.S. mainland since Feb. 1979, and one of only four that will happen over the contiguous 48 states between 2000 to 2050, a sight to behold.
That is, a sight to safely behold.
The events begin this Saturday, Aug. 19 at Apalachicola’s Riverfront Park with the first of two events being sponsored jointly by the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Apalachicola and the Apalachicola Margaret Key Library.
Beginning at 10 a.m., Apalachicola resident Dr. Elizabeth Perkins, a retired history professor from Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, will speak on the eclipse.
The three topics she’ll explore will be the astrophysics of a solar eclipse, how such a phenomenon has been viewed over history, and how to view it safely and effectively.
“I’ll talk about how people thought about or reacted to eclipses in the past. There’s a long history of seeing and recording their fears about them,” said Perkins. “Even today there are people who imagine a magical impact of eclipses on their lives.”
Because the skies will darken somewhat for a few minutes when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, people, especially children, may believe they can look up and witness the event with the naked eye.
You must not, as the risk of serious damage to the eye can result.
Perkins plans to address the issue of eclipse viewing safety, which is particularly appropriate for parents of young children.
In addition, Karen Kessel, youth services at the Apalachicola library, has obtained through a grant that she applied for last February 1,000 pairs of NASA-approved viewing glasses. Kessel said the glasses will be distributed, free of charge, this Saturday morning at the park, as well as moon pies, as supplies last.
To address Monday afternoon’s 2:41 p.m. eclipse, the county’s two public schools have taken differing approaches.
Karen Peddie, human resources director for the Franklin County Schools, said the schoolkids will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m., with all staff dismissed at 1 p.m. All extracurricular practices or meetings are also cancelled for the afternoon and evening.
“We want to make sure everyone can be off the road prior to the eclipse,” she said. “We don’t want to take the risk of students or staff being injured.”
At the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, school will be dismissed as usual at 3 p.m., which is well after the eclipse. If parents wish to check their kids out of school ahead of time, so they can be with them during the eclipse, perhaps at the viewing party downtown, they can do so at 1:45 p.m. and the absence will be excused.
ABC School Principal Chimene Johnson said the school will provide to all students viewing glasses, with the optical strength of welding glasses which offer protection greater than the required standard.
“We have glasses for all our students that are made in America,” she said. “You cannot see with them on.”
Johnson said the eclipse provides a good teaching moment for students. “It’s a historical event that has a lot of educational value,” she said.
She said discussions are underway as to which age group will be allowed outside to view the eclipse, but the current policy is that “our students will refrain from being outside during that time.”
Johnson said the greatest concerns are with the younger kids, who have shown some instances during field testing of an impulse to remove the glasses when the world appears dark around them. “With our younger ones we want to take preventive measures,” she said.
The big event is, of course, Monday afternoon, and will be celebrated with a viewing party at Riverfront Park, beginning at 2 p.m., again sponsored by the library, Main Street and the chamber.
They’ll be a deejay playing music that features lyrics and sounds suggestive of an eclipse, as well as ice water, Eclipse gum and Starburst candy. Beginning at about 2:30 p.m., the excitement will start building towards the eclipse, which is roughly 10 minutes later.
To learn more about the eclipse, please visit http://tinyurl.com/ybx23hzs