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W.Va. teacher plans trip to view solar eclipse

February 22, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

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WV teacherW.Va. teacher plans trip to view solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse on Thursday will look like a cookie-monster bite out of the sun to Tri-State area star gazers.

But some lucky people who are trekking to the Carribean hope to see an even rarer event - a total eclipse.

Elizabeth Wasiluk, director of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Planetarium, will view the astrological wonder from Aruba, an island off the northern coast of South America.

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"It's supposed to be one of the most awe-inspiring events that can happen on the face of the earth," she said.

Wasiluk, who has tried twice before to witness a total eclipse, is wondering if she isn't jinxed.

In July 1991, she went to Mazatlan, Mexico. The weather was great until just before the eclipse, when a local shower moved in.

The sky got cloudy at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1994, just minutes before the moon came between the sun and the Earth.

"I figure the third time is going to be the charm," she said.

Wasiluk is optimistic because the skies are almost always clear in the Carribean this time of year.

Yet there are so many things that could go wrong. If she misses her connecting flight, she probably won't get there in time because all the airlines are booked in anticipation of the event.

"I've been planning the last two-and-a-half years for something that lasts three minutes," she said. "It only has to be clear for three minutes."

It will be her last chance to see a total eclipse in the Western Hemisphere until Aug. 20, 2017.

Many other astronomers and travelers are taking advantage of the opportunity, although Tri-State area travel agents said they don't know of trips booked just for that purpose.

Back here in the Tri-State area on Thursday, the moon will start to cover the sun at 12:22 p.m., eventually darkening the bottom 22 percent of the sun for just a few minutes, said Rod Martin, director of the Washington County Planetarium in Hagerstown.

The whole thing will be over at 1:14 p.m.

"This one you probably won't notice too much," he said.

But you can still watch as long as it's a clear day and you take precautions to protect your eyes from permanent damage, he said.

Even in a total eclipse, never look directly into the sun.

The safest way to watch the eclipse is to view it indirectly with a pinhole projection. Using a pencil point or sharp object, punch a small hole in a stiff piece of paper, cardboard or index card, then go outside and hold the paper in the sunlight. Hold a second sheet of paper beneath the first, so that you can see the image of the sun projected through the hole onto the second sheet. If you make a larger hole, the projected image will become brighter and fuzzier.

Those are the kinds of techniques that Wasiluk, acting as kind of an eclipse guide, will be teaching to tourists in Aruba.

She is ready to answer a million questions about the phenomenon that is really a celestial coincidence.

The Earth is the only planet in the solar system that has a moon the perfect size to cover the sun, she said.

"That's part of the fascination," she said.

Primitive societies have long feared the solar eclipse. When it arrived, they would bang drums to ward off evil spirits.

"It always worked," she said, because the eclipse would end minutes later.

When Wasiluk went to Mexico, pregnant women refused to go outside during the solar eclipse, frightened it would harm their babies.

View live pictures of the total eclipse when it happens - http://www.skypub.com/eclipses/s980226c.html

Get more information at the Solar Data Analysis Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. - http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/

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