Tom Stahl, a science teacher at Northside High School, is traveling to South Carolina to get the best possible view of the coming solar eclipse.
Occupation: Science teacher, Northside High School, Warner Robins
Q: What special plans do you have for Aug. 21?
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A: I’ll be in South Carolina to experience the total eclipse of the sun.
Q: Why South Carolina?
A: I’ll be in the northwest area which is directly in line for the sun being totally obscured — 100 percent — during the eclipse.
Q: That’s not too far away, will the sun not be totally obscured here?
A: No. It won’t be 100 percent like it will be there. Here in Houston County, Peach County, in most of Middle Georgia, there’ll be a sliver of the sun not obscured by the moon from our viewpoint here. I’d say the amount here is about 95 percent which is pretty spectacular, but not the same effect as where it’s complete.
Q: How dark will it get here?
A: Not very. It won’t be like twilight. Birds won’t start roosting or anything. It’ll probably be more like a cloudy day. But still people can experience the eclipse and view it if they take the proper precautions — that’s important because there’s a real risk to your eyes if you look directly at the sun even though it seems eclipsed, even though it seems OK. I have to emphasize that.
Q: When will it occur and how long will it last?
A: For our region here, roughly speaking, it will start to encroach about 1 p.m., just a few minutes after, and be done by a few minutes after 4. It’s pretty much three hours beginning to end as the moon passes across the sun and casts its shadow on Earth. The time of maximum coverage will be just after 2:30 — I’ve heard 2:39 p.m. here. As far as how long maximum coverage will last, that will be about three minutes at best anywhere in the United States. Where I’m at it will be about two minutes, 50 seconds, probably a little less here.
Q: What makes the trip worth it to you? You’re a science teacher — but is there more to it?
A: I teach physical science and physics at Northside High School so it’s interesting from that standpoint, but really I’ve had a lifelong love of science, including astronomy. When I was a kid the “S” volume of the encyclopedia was my favorite and the most worn from my use. It had “Snakes,” “Science” and “Space” in it.
Q: So seeing a total eclipse has been a longtime dream?
A: It is a bucket list sort of thing for me, yeah. I grew up in the ‘60s watching the space program and always had an interest in space that naturally went to the solar system and astronomy. I guess I’ve seen three partial solar eclipses just because of where I lived at various times but I’ve never experienced a total eclipse, so personally this is very rewarding. When I heard about it I automatically said, “I’m going.”
Q: Reports are it will get very crowded along the path that will experience the full, total eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina. Does that bother you?
A: I’m all in. I’m just going to do it. They’re saying millions of people will see it because the path is along such densely populated areas. Plus, so many live within eight hours driving distance of it. For the rest of their lives they’ll say they saw it. The only thing that can ruin my day is if it’s really cloudy or raining. If I wake up to rain I’m prepared to travel around to get where it’s visible if possible.
Q: Safety. You said it’s dangerous to look directly — what do you do?
A: You can get special eclipse glasses. I’ve seen them at the check-out counters at Lowe’s pretty cheap and they have them other places, they have them online. That’s one good, safe way for viewing.
Q: Can you use regular sunglasses?
A: No. That’s not recommended.
Q: What else?
A: You can get the glasses or buy a special material, a special film, and make a viewer. I bought some offline and made several viewers. You can also make sort of a homemade projector and in fact I’m doing that with my students. One way is to just take two Styrofoam plates and punch a little hole in one with a thumbtack or something. You stand looking away from the sun and hold that plate up with one hand and hold the other further away with your other hand. Line it up and you’ll see a projection of the eclipse image through hole onto the second plate. Also, during the eclipse any normal shadow will reflect the activity of the eclipse. It can be pretty spectacular, especially where you have sunshine shining through the leaves of a tree on the ground or a wall or something. It’s very nice.
Q: Are your students excited?
A: Of course some are, some aren’t. I’ll be talking more about it and my physics students will be doing calculations related to the eclipse and things we can figure out from it.
Q: Would you give a fundamental “solar eclipse” definition?
A: It’s simply the shadow of the moon falling on the Earth because the moon is between the sun and a particular location on the earth. There are solar eclipses every year to some degree or another somewhere on Earth, but obviously the thing about this one is it’s become The Great American Eclipse of 2017 because it’s visible to us along such a lengthy cross-country path.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.