Out of this world:Professor has eyes on eclipse

YOUNGSTOWN — More than 300 people, many of them alumni, gathered in the McKay Auditorium on the Youngstown State University campus Thursday night to hear Patrick Durrell, professor of physics and astronomy, discuss the upcoming solar eclipse.

Normally, Durrell’s research focuses on stars and star clusters in nearby galaxies, according to his YSU biography. He takes part in numerous international research consortiums and works with some of the biggest telescopes in the world, including the famous Hubble Space Telescope.

It was different Thursday, however.

On April 8, the moon will pass across the sun, creating a moving 124-mile-wide shadow that will cross North America from Mazatlán, Mexico, to Miramichi, Canada.

About 3:15 p.m., the total eclipse will hit Warren and last for about 1.5 minutes.

“Now what happens during a total solar eclipse is the moon, as it is orbiting the earth and the earth is rotating and everything’s moving,” Durrell said, “is that you will slowly see over an hour and a quarter the moon as it slowly starts to eat away at the sun and cover it up.”

The moon will completely cover the sun at this point and the bluish corona, the hottest part of the sun, will be fully visible as a jagged frill of light around the black hole of the shadow, Durrell’s PowerPoint demonstrated.

“You may notice a couple of celestial friends,” Durell said, referring to Jupiter, Venus and Sirius — the latter being the brightest star in the night sky — which also may be visible during the total eclipse.

Before that, observers can watch the sun slowly slip behind the black disk of the moon’s shadow, but only, Durrel cautions, with the proper eyewear specifically designed for a solar eclipse.

A good portion of Durell’s talk focused on safety. “A lot of people have been making a deal about eclipse safety,” Durrell said, “about wearing the proper glasses and things like that — and they are right. Take it to heart.”

Looking directly at the sun, even when the sun is partly covered in an eclipse, is very dangerous, Durrell said. Sunglasses do not provide enough protection. Only specially designed safety eyewear that blocks out 99.97% of the light and UV rays should be worn.

Staff handed out specialty disposable solar glasses produced by Lunt Solar Systems.

Durrell warned the audiences not to use old eclipse eyewear if they have them because the jells and films involved will wear out over time and no longer provide adequate protection.

Eclipses are surprisingly rare events.

“Every once in a while, a couple times a year you’ll get a perfect alignment where the sun, the moon, and the earth are in a perfect, beautiful line. And when that happens, the moon can just cover the surface of the sun,” Durrell said.

The last total eclipse in Ohio occurred in 1806, according to government websites, and stargazers will have to wait until 2099 for the next solar eclipse to hit Ohio, according to Durrell.

Most of Trumbull County will be under the shadow of the eclipse while Mahoning will not.

The shadow will run northeast of Austintown and Girard, covering Niles and Warren and points north of there.

A partnership between YSU’s Ward Beecher Planetarium and Foxconn will provide a viewing station in the Lordstown facility.

“We’ve been partnering with Foxconn because they’ve got that big parking lot out front (of the Lordstown factory),” Durrell said. “And they have people who have experience in moving cars around,” he joked.

The event at Lordstown will begin around 1 p.m. and end around 4 p.m. “No early birds, however,” Durrell said. “This is a business, and they have people at work.”

Interested parties should enter the parking lot in front of the Foxconn building at 2300 Hallack Young Road SW, Lordstown.

Observers are encouraged to bring the all-important eclipse glasses (not just sunglasses), lawn chairs and refreshments.

Telescopes sporting solar filters will be provided and operated by YSU Physics and Astronomy / Ward Beecher Planetarium faculty and staff.

People interested in traveling to see the eclipse should also be aware of traffic, Durrell said. Tourists will often travel long distances and clog highways with their cars, often creating the potential for traffic problems.

Durrell expected people to drive from as far away as Philadelphia to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.

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