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Local enthusiasts prepare for total solar eclipse

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

You can bet Michael Zeiler will be front and center to catch a glimpse of Aug. 21’s total solar eclipse.

Zeiler, of Santa Fe, is a self-proclaimed “eclipse chaser.”

“After someone sees a total solar eclipse for the first time, their immediate question is, ‘When and where is the next one?’ ” Zeiler said.

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For Zeiler, that first time was in 1991 in Baja California, Mexico.

Since then, Zeiler has traveled the world to see seven more: from a farm in rural Austria to the tropical rainforests of Gabon to the ice-covered Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

“It’s like being on an alien planet,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful object in nature.”

On Aug. 21, you’ll find him in Casper, Wyo., for what’s being called the “Great American Eclipse.”

The “path of totality” – a 70-mile-wide swath of land stretching from coast to coast, where the moon will completely block out the sun for a few minutes – includes parts of around a dozen states.

The path cuts north of New Mexico, so Aug. 21’s view won’t be quite as striking in Albuquerque, since only 73 percent of the sun will be covered.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth, blocking out parts or all of the sun. Looking directly at the sun can be harmful to the eyes, even when most of it is blocked by the moon, so special viewing devices or techniques are needed.

In Albuquerque, the eclipse will begin at 10:20 a.m., peak at 11:45 a.m. and finish at 1:13 p.m.

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While New Mexico won’t experience a total eclipse, there will still be events marking the eclipse throughout the area.

“Even though we’re not in the path of totality, it’s still really cool to see the moon covering our sun when we’re used to just seeing it up there,” said University of New Mexico associate professor of physics and astronomy Ylva Pihlström in a news release. She described Albuquerque’s view of the upcoming eclipse as like a bright, crescent moon.

Pihlström and UNM students will host a viewing party at the UNM Campus Observatory on the day of the eclipse.

The observatory’s 14-inch, professional telescope will allow viewers to safely observe the event.

A few hours to the northwest, Chaco Culture National Historical Park will also host eclipse activities, including telescope viewing and a live feed of the total eclipse.

An ancient perspective on solar eclipses will also be available at the park; the Chacoan people were known to mark the sun’s movements, and many believe a petroglyph at the site depicts the A.D. 1097 total solar eclipse.

Short talks at the “Piedra del Sol” will be given throughout the day.

“Everyone can come out and view the sky just like they did 1,000 years ago,” said Nathan Hatfield, the park’s chief of interpretation.

Zeiler, creator of greatamericaneclipse.com, suggested a different viewing method.

The spaces between the leaves of deciduous trees act as mini-projectors of the eclipse.

“The little shafts of light will form a whole series of crescent shapes on the ground,” Zeiler said.

Albuquerqueans may remember the 2012 eclipse, when the city was in the path of an annular eclipse.

Annular eclipses occur when the moon and sun are aligned, but the moon appears smaller than the sun. Therefore, the outer edges of the sun are still visible during its peak.

“Very cool, but not as dramatic as a total solar eclipse, because the corona (the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere, visible only during a total eclipse) will not become visible,” said Zeiler.

If Zeiler’s testimony has inspired you to take a weekend road trip, the closest place to Albuquerque in the path of totality is Glendo, Wyo.

That’s about a 10-hour, 650-mile drive.

“However, make clear to your readership that it won’t be possible to stay overnight in Denver or Fort Collins and casually drive to Glendo on the morning of the eclipse,” Zeiler said, adding that the eclipse is expected to create huge traffic delays on Interstate 25. “Best if people arrive the day before and if that’s not possible, leave at midnight to the Glendo area. Or take some smaller roads.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation is predicting heavy interstate traffic in the days before and after the eclipse.

Around 600,000 people are expected to travel to Wyoming alone to view the eclipse.

Maybe not the most relaxing weekend getaway, but Zeiler said it’s worth it.

“People will never regret the effort,” he said. “You’ll be giddy to see it, but you’ll feel a tinge of sorrow when it’s over.”

If you’ve caught the bug, another total solar eclipse is scheduled to pass through the continental U.S. in 2024.

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