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McHenry County takes on 'Great American Eclipse'

Adler Planetarium Director of Public Observing Michelle Nichols discusses the upcoming total solar eclipse at McHenry County College Tuesday, Aug. 8. 2017. For the first time I in nearly 30 years, a total solar eclipse will be visible in the U.S. on Aug. 21.
Adler Planetarium Director of Public Observing Michelle Nichols discusses the upcoming total solar eclipse at McHenry County College Tuesday, Aug. 8. 2017. For the first time I in nearly 30 years, a total solar eclipse will be visible in the U.S. on Aug. 21.

Marengo resident Linda Rudnik thinks there already has been "a whole lot of hoopla" about the solar eclipse that will be visible from the contiguous 48 states Aug. 21. But she said she's all right with the eclipse mania.

"I’m a lifelong learner, and it’s something interesting and something that’s happening now. I just want to be more aware,” Rudnik said.

Public libraries, schools, nature centers and even optometrists throughout McHenry County have organized educational sessions and safe viewing events to make the "Great American Eclipse," as it's been named, accessible to all.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching Earth, and the moon casts a shadow onto Earth, according to NASA.

"A total solar eclipse is only visible from a small area on Earth," NASA said on its website. "The people who see the total eclipse are in the center of the moon’s shadow when it hits Earth. The sky becomes very dark, as if it were night. For a total eclipse to take place, the sun, moon and Earth must be in a direct line."

This will be the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1979, and the next will be in 2024.

"[It's] one of those bucket list things you want to do," Cary resident Frank Sedlacek said of viewing the eclipse.

Sedlacek is traveling with friends to southern Kentucky, along the Tennessee border, to capture the eclipse in its totality.

Aspiring eclipse watchers in northern Illinois only will be able to see about 87 percent of the sun obscured. The eclipse will begin about 11:50 a.m. and end about 2:40 p.m., depending on location. The sun will reach its maximum coverage about 1:20 p.m. and stay that way for almost three minutes. Because the eclipse will only be partial, it's essential that anyone wishing to view it obtain the correct protective eyeware.

“The more I talked to people, the more I realized people think they can look at the eclipse, and it concerned me,” said doctor of optometry Elizabeth M. Atkinson from Atkinson Eye Care in Algonquin. “In our area, it is not going to be completely covered; a sliver of the sun will still be showing; normal sunglasses will not be enough.”

Atkinson explained burning a retina, which can occur if a person looks directly at the sun without protection, is painless. A person would not know until he or she looks away and is left with permanent central vision loss.

NASA advises anyone wanting to look directly at the eclipse consult the American Astronomical Society for a list of reputable vendors of "eclipse glasses" and filters. The glasses should be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard and not appear scratched or damaged. The only safe way to view the partial eclipse is with these glasses, or by using the indirect pinhole method.

Here's how NASA describes the indirect pinhole method: "Cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other, creating a waffle pattern. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse."

Scammers have taken advantage of the hype surrounding the eclipse and released fake protective glasses, according to the Better Business Bureau.

"The real glasses look very similar to movie theater 3-D glasses and can be purchased for as little as $2," said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

Alexa Newman is a youth services librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library, and she applied for a grant to obtain viewing glasses for those who want to watch the eclipse from the library.

“It’s a big event. They only happen every so many years, and it’s the only full one crossing the entire United States in our lifetime," Newman said. "I thought we should definitely participate and make it available to the public to be able to come here and watch it safely.”

Newman attributes Americans' fascination with the eclipse to their love of science fiction, and she said the library will have eclipse-related learning activities available as well. If weather is cloudy, most viewing events will provide a live NASA stream of the eclipse inside.

“Come out wherever you are and enjoy this," Newman said. "It’s a chance to experience space science without having to leave home."

Those in southern Illinois, near Carbondale, can catch the total eclipse. The sun's corona, or top layer, is only visible during a total solar eclipse. Stars also can appear.

Sedlacek is far from the only person traveling to get a better view of the eclipse. Illinois State Police anticipate many people will hit the roads to see the eclipse in its totality.

“The total solar eclipse is an exciting event, which could cause distractions for motorists,” Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz said. “Please be sure to keep your headlights on for your safety throughout the entire day of the eclipse. Also make sure to watch for motorists who may be slowing or stopping and pedestrians standing near or on the roadway trying to view the event.”

Police also anticipate heavy traffic next weekend and ask drivers to pull off the road to view the celestial event.

McHenry County College hosted a speaker from the Adler Planetarium on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming eclipse. Paul Hamill, a professor of Earth science at MCC, also is traveling to see the eclipse but did not yet know where he was going at the beginning of the week.

"If I have to go to Oregon or Nebraska or whatever, I’ll do it. My wife thinks I’m nuts," Hamill said. “For 20 years it’s been one of my bucket list items; if something doesn’t work, I have seven more years to the next one, right?”

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