Westport Astronomical Society to host solar eclipse viewing
Updated 3:55 pm, Friday, August 18, 2017
WESTPORT — As buzz builds for Monday’s solar eclipse — the first total solar eclipse visible from the United States in nearly four decades — the Westport Astronomical Society is planning a viewing, complete with safety precautions, from its Bayberry Lane observatory.
While a narrow band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience a total solar eclipse Aug. 21, a nearly 70 percent eclipse will be visible from Westport from 1:24 to 4 p.m. with its peak at 2:45 p.m. The Westport Astronomical Society plans to pull out telescopes modified with solar filters and solar glasses from 1-4 p.m. at Rolnick Observatory, 182 Bayberry Lane, as long as skies are clear.
The society hopes to help people view the eclipse safely, “to see some of the magic our celestial bodies put on for us,” treasurer Alex Kuhn said. Optometrists warn staring at the sun without a solar filter — including during an eclipse — can cause eye damage.
Solar eclipses occur roughly every 18 months, Westport Astronomical Society President Dan Wright said, but they’re often only visible from remote or unrealistic locations, such as over the ocean. The last total solar eclipse that could be seen from the continental U.S. was on Feb. 26, 1979; the next will be on Oct. 14, 2023, according to NASA.
Wright saw the 1979 eclipse as seventh-grader in South Dakota. He went outside with his classmates during the school day and saw the moon eclipse over 90 percent of the sun.
Westport Astronomical Society partial solar eclipse viewing Aug. 21
1 p.m., observatory opens for guests
1:24 p.m., eclipse begins in Westport
2:45 p.m., eclipse peak in Westport when about 69.5 percent of the sun will be eclipsed
4 p.m., eclipse ends in Westport
It was a “beautiful crazy thing — the sun getting eaten up by the moon,” he said. Wright recalled watching thousands of mini eclipses dance across the ground in shadows through the trees. “It really changed me… I knew I wanted more. I wanted a lot more.”
Wright, who lives in Brookfield, makes the 45-minute drive to Westport for the astronomical society. He joined when living in Norwalk; he and his brother, then serving in Afghanistan, would videochat daily and talked about both joining local clubs and learning to use telescopes when his brother returned from overseas. For Wright, it stuck; he has now been president of the Westport Astronomical Society for eight years.
But for far longer — 38 years — he has waited to see his first total solar eclipse. With a group from the society, he is traveling to Beatrice, Neb. to make it happen.
“Totality is something that is very special,” Wright said. He added, “You’re watching the clockwork of a solar system in action.”
Two other astronomical society members will also be traveling to the stretch where totality is visible to aid with NASA research. The eclipse offers a unique opportunity to gain insight into the sun and solar system, according to Kuhn.
The Westport Astronomical Society was founded in 1975 as an idea to put to use 182 Bayberry Lane, a former Nike missile radar site. The historic site, a vestige of the Cold War, has two radar towers and the Rolnick Observatory now occupies one.
Kuhn, a Fairfield resident, said members of the Westport Astronomical Society can get keys to use the observatory as they wish. The observatory hosts public nights each Wednesday night from 8 to 10 p.m., allowing guests to use the telescope in the observatory dome and — as long as there isn’t snow — a 25-inch Obsession telescope, the largest telescope for public use in the state.
Kuhn hopes Monday’s eclipse viewing will help introduce more locals to the astronomical society. Seeing a solar eclipse, he noted, can spark a passion and motivate them to learn more about astronomy.
“I think it’s a great thing to introduce more people into science and understanding about how their world and universe works,” Wright said. “They’re part of the cog; they’re part of the mechanism.”