October 29, 2014 8:00 pm

Looking Up at the Partial Solar Eclipse: SCAS Pueblo


Photo of the partial solar eclipse on 10-23-14, taken by David Furry.

Credit: David Furry

Today’s guest blog post about their community event to view the recent partial solar eclipse was written by Alan Knight, the Public Relations Director of the Southern Colorado Astronomical Society, one of the members of the StarTalk Radio Cosmic Community.

I knew it was going to be a busy observing event. During the course of the day, I had received several calls confirming the location, time, if there were any fees associated and if visitors should bring anything. In addition to detail-seeking guests, I received a few calls from a local television station, gathering information for their eclipse report and confirming they would be visiting with us. Cool!

Running half an hour late due to my full-time job schedule, I was feeling slight pressure. When I pulled into the parking lot of the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, I felt that pressure ratchet up a little higher as three different news organizations were present and at least 60 visitors with more cars pulling in behind me. “Game face on! Let’s do this,” I thought as I got out of the car.

We were still a few minutes away from the start of the partial solar eclipse, but activities were in full swing. Our incoming society president, Dave Furry, was completely engaged with the media, with three cameras strategically positioned around him and reporters jockeying for interviews. I visually searched the crowd, there was Malissa Pacheco handing out solar eclipse viewing glasses, Ray and Debbie Nowell directing people to the telescope positions, Scott Goins staffing two telescopes, and Furry trying to staff a wide band while giving sound bites. There were smiles, happy guests, excited chatter about what people would see, pristine blue skies overhead, not a cloud to interfere with viewing. Now we waited for the second “star” of the show, our moon.

Photo from the Partial Solar Eclipse viewing event on 10-23-14, taken by Malissa Pacheco

Credit: Malissa Pacheco

“The eclipse has started,” came from somewhere in the crowd. “Oh I see it!” followed shortly. As PR Director, I should have been snapping away with my camera, but you only get to see first contact once. Where were my glasses? In my haste to get busy, I had neglected to grab a pair for myself. Quickly I found a set and joined the collective. Sure enough, a small section of the Sun was gone.

Something that has always struck me as funny: solar rated telescopes versus solar viewing glasses. The views a wide band white light filtered telescope provides, or better still a Hydrogen Alpha telescope, are spectacular. Yet the solar glasses seem to solicit the strongest response. I thought this might be a simple issue of education, what a person was seeing in the telescope compared to what they were getting with the glasses.

Photo of young sungazer looking at the partial solar eclipse though special safe viewing glasses, taken by Alan Knight.

Credit: Alan Knight

After explaining the various views to a few visitors, I followed the explanation up with a completely unscientific poll. Which do you like best? The #1 response was the glasses. Okay why? The most common answer being, “Because I can see how big the Sun is.” The second most popular answer was, “I don’t have to wait to look.” Fair enough and food for thought for August 21st, 2017.

Our other viewing location at Central High School had phenomenal attendance, nearly 400 gazers, with a pep band and pizza for all. By the end of the partial eclipse, we had more than 500 visitors between the two locations, with a lecture and star gaze still to go that evening. We had four families join the society that day, numerous people signed up for society email, we had a great deal of activity on our social media sites and webpages, and the grand prize: 500 people got the opportunity to witness an astronomical event, views provided by the Southern Colorado Astronomical Society.

Yup, Slam Dunk!


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