Celebrating solar splendor

When the moon photobombs the sun this month, you’ll want to be there

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published August 1, 2017

It was in the middle of an impassioned speech from her longtime boyfriend about the 2017 solar eclipse when Robin Udell, of Silver Spring, Maryland, thought about taking the next step in their relationship.

“So, he was talking about how cool the eclipse is, how awesome it is that it’s happening in our lifetime, and I thought, ‘OK. So let’s get married,’” said Udell, formerly of Ann Arbor.

Later this month, Udell and her now fiancé — former C & G Newspapers reporter Kevin Bunch — will head to an open field close to Nashville, Tennessee, surrounded by close family and friends, to get married underneath the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

What started out as a sweet gesture for her husband-to-be now has its own special meaning for Udell, who never considered herself a traditional bride.

“I do like that we’ll have even more special memories of an already rare and rather awe-inspiring event. I vaguely remember the last total solar eclipse from when I was, what, 7? And being really disappointed that I couldn’t observe it,” she explained. “So yeah, years later, being able to not only see it but also make this huge life change at the same time is pretty great. And it’s nice to think about being able to maybe take our kids to see the next one, and bore them with stories of our wedding.”

According to Michael Narlock, head of astronomy and exhibits at Cranbrook Institute of Science, the last time a solar eclipse has been so widely viewable across the United States was 99 years ago, in 1918. The special event is being celebrated by everyone from astronomers to astrologers and amateur science lovers.

“These events are great if for no other reason they bring to the fore that there are still some cool things to see in our skies that can get lost in our everyday life,” Narlock said. “When you see something in the cosmos, it really kind of puts things in perspective.”

Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills has activities planned all day Aug. 21 to celebrate the eclipse, including all-day planetarium shows, telescopes for use on the museum lawn and, of course, live viewing of the main event through the observatory’s massive solar telescopes.

“The observatory will offer tremendous and dramatic views of the eclipse, if it’s clear that day,” Narlock said.

The Michigan Science Center in Detroit has programming planned throughout the day for the eclipse too, including a live stream of the eclipse in the museum’s Toyota Engineering Theatre.

Younger visitors can take advantage of hands-on activities, like creating pinhole solar viewers, while older participants can chat with Wayne State University astronomers and turn their eyes to the skies through professional telescopes.

While metro Detroit isn’t the best place in the country to get the full impact of the total eclipse — the southern part of the United States is where many astronomy enthusiasts are heading to take in the event — it will still be worthwhile to see, said Paulette Epstein, staff astronomer and planetarium and theater manager at the Michigan Science Center.

“We’re in a place where we won’t get total coverage, maybe about 80-85 percent coverage, but even if it’s cloudy that day, it will get darker and cooler outside,” she said.

The Southfield Public Library is teaming up with Vollbrecht Planetarium for a special open house to give guests the chance to see the solar eclipse for free through its solar-protected house telescopes. It will also be live-streaming NASA video of the eclipse on its 30-foot circumference planetarium dome. Families can call (248) 756-8880 or visit vollbrecht planetarium.com for more information.

The Rochester Hills Public Library is hosting a smaller event, complete with live music, snacks and eclipse glasses so participants can safely view the sun spectacle. Adult Services Manager Jessica Parij said the all-ages program is already sold out, but she encouraged those interested to sign up for the waiting list.

“We’ll have water so everybody stays hydrated, we’ll have sun- and moon-themed snacks, and a science teacher from a local high school on hand to answer questions,” Parij said.

The number of participants allowed at the RHPL eclipse party will depend on how many pairs of solar-safe glasses are available. After all, you shouldn’t be looking directly up at the sun, even if the moon is blocking most of the rays.

“You can make your own viewer with No. 16 welders glass, but we’ll also be selling eclipse glasses in our science shop for people to purchase and take a look,” Narlock said.

For more information on solar eclipse events at the Michigan Science Center or Cranbrook Institute of Science, visit mi-sci.org or science.cranbrook.edu.

To join the waitlist for the solar eclipse party at the Rochester Hills Public Library, call (248) 656-2900.