South Floridians prepare to take in rare solar eclipse

MIAMI (WSVN) - Hours before a total solar eclipse will darken entire portions of the United States, South Florida is preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime celestial sight.

Monday is a day the entire country has awaited for 99 years, and the Sunshine State is no exception.

At the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Downtown Miami, organizers are counting down the minutes. “It’s going across the USA, all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast,” said Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego, Science Curator of Astronomy at the Frost Museum. “Of course, with such an event of astronomical proportions, the museum will have a viewing party.”

The Frost Museum’s Director of Technology and Youth Development Lindsay Bartholomew said the museum will be taking advantage of this as a teaching moment. “We’ll have telescopes up on the roof, we’ll have telescopes down here on the ground level,” she said. “We’ll have a couple of activities for you to safely and directly look at the sun.”

Students, faculty and staff at higher learning institutions, from Broward College to Florida International University, will also have the opportunity to experience the phenomenon in a special and safe way.

“I think it’s pretty cool that Broward College is actually having it here, so I don’t really have to go anywhere,” said Broward College student Claudy Derize. “I can just come up to the observatory and watch it.”

“We will have about 100 pairs of solar glasses that you can borrow and look at the sun with,” said Dr. James Webb, FIU astrophysics professor. “We will also have solar telescopes set up, so you can see through our telescopic view.”

Parts of 14 states will be in the path of totality, meaning total darkness, as the moon completely covers the sun. The 70-mile wide path will start as far west as Oregon at 1:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, then head to America’s heartland — Lincoln, Nebraska — at 2:02 p.m. before ending at Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:46 p.m.

Miami will experience a partial eclipse starting at 1:26 p.m. At its peak, the moon will cover 78 percent of the sun, at around 2:58 p.m. “From Miami, we’re going to see about 80 percent coverage,” said Bartholomew. “This is the first time in 99 years where the moon has passed in front of the sun all across the U.S.”

The historic event collides with the first day of school in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

“It’s quite special because scientists actually use eclipses such as these to do a lot of experiments to find out many things to understand our sun,” said NASA solar system ambassador Ibianny Salcedo.

But some residents just couldn’t wait for the actual eclipse to mark the occasion.

In Hollywood, the Stirling Road Branch Library held a pre-eclipse party, Sunday, where children learned the importance of viewing the eclipse safely. With just a couple of paper plates, some aluminum foil and a pinhole, the children made their own solar eclipse safe viewfinders.

“It’s very exciting. We’ve given out over 1,400 pairs of solar glasses today,” said library spokesperson Valerie McCurdy. “Even before the event started, we had a large line.”

In Fort Lauderdale, AutoNation IMAX will live stream the NASA 2017 Eclipse Live Show inside their theater from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The live stream is included in the price of admission, and is $16 for adults, $15 for seniors and $13 for children age 2 to 12 years old.

Across the U.S., eclipse mania has taken over. Vendors have been selling items like eclipse logo T-shirts and even eclipse-themed drinks and food.

One vendor showed off an orange-filled pastry created to mark the eclipse. “It’s a chocolate top, it’s got the ring around it, but then when you break it open, it’s full of sunshine in an orange Creamsicle flavoring,” he said.

Doctors advised spectators to avoid looking directly at the sun during the eclipse without wearing special eyewear. Regular sunglasses do not provide sufficient protection. For those who were not able to nab a pair of solar eclipse glasses, NASA published a do-it-yourself method here.

It’s going to take about an hour for the moon to move completely past the sun.

“I think an eclipse like this will catch people’s attention,” said Susan Barnette, the director at Buehler Planetarium and Observatory, “and hopefully, get them to appreciate science more. Not everyone is a science nerd, but everyone can be a science fan.”

7News will have live coverage of the solar eclipse starting Monday at 1 p.m., right after 7News at Noon.

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