Michiganians wide-eyed about approaching solar eclipse
Michael Narlock, head of astronomy, Cranbrook Institute of Science, talks about the telescope that will be available for visitors to see the sun during the solar eclipse Aug. 21
From scientists to schoolkids to amateur stargazers, Michiganians are geeked about Monday’s solar eclipse — Diane Hall included.
“I am on pins and needles about it,” said Hall, president of the Warren Astronomical Society.
For the eclipse, Hall is traveling to Grand Island, Nebraska, with six members of the Warren Astronomical Society — one of the oldest and largest astronomical societies in southeast Michigan with roughly 120 members — for optimal viewing.
“We said, ‘Well, Wyoming will be crazy, and Carbondale, Illinois, will have so many people there. Nebraska sounds a little more peaceful,’ ” said Hall, 36, of Dearborn.
In Michigan, residents are expected to see about 80 percent of the eclipse — when the moon blocks light from the sun — from 1:03 p.m. to 3:47 p.m. The best time to see it is 2:27 p.m. At that point, it will get a little darker outside and the temperature will drop.
Viewers in the total solar eclipse path from Northwest Oregon to South Carolina will be able to see stars and planets. Birds might even stop chirping.
“The animals would think it’s time to go to bed,” said Michael Narlock, Cranbrook Institute of Science head of astronomy. “There’s a very good reason why, historically, ancient cultures thought it was a bad omen, because night visited upon us during the day.”
Astronomers say two to five total solar eclipses happen each year, yet most are only viewable from the ocean.
“For a solar eclipse to happen where there’s people, that’s even more rare,” said Paulette Epstein, planetarium manager and staff astronomer at the Michigan Science Center.
Other astronomical society members are traveling to Madras, Oregon, and Casper, Wyoming, but a few will remain locally to help with the Cranbrook Institute of Science’s event.
One member will bring a solar telescope — which safely allows viewers to see the surface of the sun — for anyone to peer through.
If skies are sunny, Cranbrook is expecting roughly 1,000 visitors Monday. From noon to 4 p.m. in the observatory, visitors can view the sun from an advanced telescope — the only one of its kind available for public use in Metro Detroit.
“It will essentially be wearing eclipse glasses,” said Narlock, explaining they will place a filter on it.
Observatory viewing is included with general admission, but expect a line and only a few seconds to look through the telescope.
The planetarium will also have educational eclipse shows, and the auditorium will livestream places in eclipse totality.
The institute science shop also will have a limited supply of eclipse glasses available for purchase for $3.99 on a first-come, first-serve basis Monday.
The glasses are certified, but if people bought glasses elsewhere and are unsure of safety, Narlock recommends a simple test: Place your glasses in front of your phone’s camera. Then take a picture of the sun.
“If you look at the picture, and all you see is the disk of the sun, the glasses should be fine,” he said. “If you see clouds, if you can see the area around the sun, then they’re not fine.”
While Narlock said he hasn’t seen any solar eclipse merchandise locally, Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever Stamps — sold at Cranbrook’s shop and U.S. Post Offices for 49 cents each — have been a hot item.
They’re the first heat-sensitive stamp the post office has issued. Placing a thumb over a black eclipse image transforms the image into an image of the moon. But don’t expect to receive many on letters.
“A lot of people are buying them and keeping them,” Narlock said.
Science center plans activities
At the Michigan Science Center in Detroit on Monday, visitors can make clouds, experiment with gravity and participate in activities that “imagine what extraterrestrial life might look like,” said Epstein said. Visitors can also make pinhole projectors for eclipse viewing.
“It’s basically a piece of cardstock with a hole punched in it,” Epstein said. “You can take the light from the sun, direct it through the pinhole and you’ll be able to see it on the ground.”
Weather permitting, the center will have solar telescopes for visitors to use outside. From 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the theater will screen a NASA livestream that shows the eclipse nationwide. All activities are included with general admission.
If it rains, Epstein said people won’t be able to see the eclipse, “but as the eclipse goes through, it will actually get a little bit darker and a little bit cooler at that time, which is still pretty neat.”
Metro Detroit is a decent eclipse-watching spot — “the farther south you go in Michigan, the better,” she said — but viewers also should head where there aren’t clouds.
“If it’s cloudy where you are, and it’s not cloudy a 20-minute drive away, take that 20-minute drive and go to where it isn’t cloudy, because it’s definitely worth it,” Epstein said.
Southfield resident Patty Robb, 52, decided to travel hundreds of miles — to the Great Smoky Mountains. She doesn’t have a particular interest in astronomy. She’s just excited to see nightfall in the afternoon.
“The owls will start hooting, the crickets will start going and the stars will come out in the middle of the day,” Robb said. “It’s so cool.”
Robb is traveling with her husband and a few coworkers from the VA Medical Center in Detroit. In preparation, she rented a cottage in March, and made custom T-shirts with the words “totality” and “eclipse.”
“The crescent part of the sun makes the ‘c,’ ” she said.
Libraries host viewing parties
For those who aren’t traveling across the country, several Metro Detroit libraries will be hosting watch parties and offering certified glasses.
By early August, the Rochester Hills Public Library had to close registration after more than 700 people signed up to attend its 1-4 p.m. watch party. Organizers opened another 100 spots this week for those on its waitlist.
“We expected it,” library director Christine Lind Hage said. “We get good attendance at our programs — not 700 all the time, but we knew it would be a popular program.”
The library is offering live music, sun and moon-themed snacks and the certified glasses to those who registered and attend the party in the parking lot.
For eclipse viewers who didn’t manage to snag glasses or missed the registration, Hage recommends checking other libraries.
“We started with 1,200 glasses, and didn’t think we’d get that many people, so we gave some to smaller libraries that didn’t get enough or were running out,” she said.
The Livonia Public Library will have 600 glasses available on a first-come, first-served basis. Its viewing party, also 1-4 p.m., will have kid-friendly art projects such as rock painting, a craft that shows how eclipses work and pinhole viewers.
“The timing of this rare astronomical event made it perfect for a library program,” said assistant branch librarian Karen Smith. “Plus, hosting an event made it possible for us to receive eclipse viewing glasses from StarNET and the Library of Michigan.”
The Whitney in Detroit, meanwhile, is hosting a “Moonbeam Tea.” The three-course lunch will include an “eclipse dessert” made by the pastry chef and samples of moonlight-brewed teas.
“Working with local tea aficionado, Mary Jones, we developed the tea that will be brewed by the light of the moon on the 20th. Hence, the name ‘Moonbeam Tea,’ ” said The Whitney executive director Pat Liebler.
Attendees will receive certified eclipse eyewear. The tea ($50 per person) begins at 1 p.m. Reservations are required.
However, if you miss the festivities this year, don’t worry. The next total solar eclipse is seven years away on April 8, 2024.
Michigan will also be closer to the path of totality.
How to make a pinhole projector
1. Get a piece of paper, preferably heavy stock.
2. Punch a hole in it with a push pin.
3. Stand with your back against the sun.
4. Use the paper to project the image of the sun on concrete. “That way, you can watch the eclipse, but you’re not running the risk of burning your eyes,” said Michael Narlock, Cranbrook Institute of Science head of astronomy.