Central Florida science community opens its doors for solar eclipse

Eclipse events in Lake Mary, Orlando, Winter Park, Melbourne, Titusville

Florida Institute of Technology stellar scientists Saida Caballero-Nieves holds a pair of solar glasses with Mylar film. Florida Tech will host a solar eclipse viewing party at the Olin Physical Science Building on Aug. 21, 2017.

Consider the 2017 solar eclipse a practice run for Central Florida. While the astronomical event happens for a swath of America on Aug. 21, there won’t be a total eclipse in Florida for another 28 years.

Many say the most exciting thing about the Great American Eclipse of 2017 is the chance to get young minds interested in science. Which is why astrophysicists, astronomers and scientists from Orlando to the Space Coast plan to host events open to the public, sharing their knowledge of the sun for all.

Residents will experience the partial eclipse in Central Florida starting around 1:20 p.m. and it will end just before 4 p.m. For those watching south of St. Augustine, the moon will cover about 85 percent of the sun for a little more than two minutes.

Fast forward to 2045 and Florida will be along the path of a total solar eclipse and experience six minutes of full-moon-like darkness.

News 6 spoke with area experts ahead of the eclipse who are hosting events on Aug. 21 open to the public. Read more about each location’s plans to welcome their communities into the world of astronomy and awe for the Great American Eclipse.

Sun, moon align with first day of class at Florida Tech

Stellar astronomer Saida Caballero-Nieves studies stars much farther than the sun Earth orbits, typically more powerful than our own sun by about a 100 times.

But her Florida Institute of Technology stellar astrophysics students will be studying our solar system’s star on the first day of the semester. The class aligned, almost as beautifully as the moon and the sun will on the day of the 2017 Great American Eclipse and within the time of totality.

The eclipse is a great opportunity for Florida tech astrophysics students to make a live observation of the sun, the physics and space sciences assistant professor told News 6.

“That’s really the only thing we can study during the day, is the sun,” Caballero-Nieves said. “At least visually.”

Those students will be among those visiting the roof of the Olin Physical Science Building to watch the solar eclipse at Florida Tech. The university will open its doors to the public and students to host the on-campus viewing party.

Caballero-Nieves showed News 6 some of the pinhole camera projectors she assembled using cylinder-shaped cardboard tubes.  Florida Tech faculty will show visitors how to make their own to at the viewing party to see the eclipse.

Caballero-Nieves said she hopes the eclipse will serve as inspiration, because there are no barriers to watch the eclipse, other than safety glasses or a pinhole projector, which can be made from household items.

FIT assistant professor Saida Caballero-Nieves holds a pinhole camera projectors she assembled using cylinder-shaped cardboard tubes for the Aug. 21, 2017 total eclipse.

“There’s not too many astronomical events that happen that you can observe; see something that doesn’t require a telescope,” she said. “You can actually see the difference with your own eyes.”

Florida Tech will also have solar safety glasses on hand until supplies run out.

“It’s something you can just walk out and observe from your own backyard,” Cabellero-Nieves said. “Bring it to your home, other than thinking it’s just out there in space.”

It’s August in Florida, so if it is sunny and clear, Celestron telescopes, with solar filters, will be set up on the deck near the observatory from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is still a livestream of the eclipse from states along the path of totality that will be shown inside the physical science building from Classroom 405.

Melbourne is expected to see about 84 percent sun coverage during the time of totality.

UCF physics faculty along totality 'from end to end'

Pegasus Palooza will be one to remember for University of Central Florida students on the first day of the fall semester.

While half a dozen physics department members will be spread out from South Carolina to Oregon viewing the Great American Eclipse, UCF faculty and students will lead the Knights for an event on campus Aug. 21 to celebrate the astronomical event.

Solar glasses will be available along with UCF Planetary Sciences Group students and faculty to help people view the eclipse with filtered telescopes. The event starting at 2 p.m. is also open to the public.

News 6 spoke with UCF physics professors Addison Dove and Yan Fernandez before they traveled to watch the sun momentarily disappear along the path of total eclipse.

“We want to be able to see the eclipse at its best,” Dove said, who will be in Tennessee on Aug. 21. “We have people from end to end, for sure.”

Other than the best view, both professors explained the eclipse is an opportunity for solar research.

Fernandez said he hopes to see photos taken during the eclipse of the solar corona during totality, or the sun’s atmosphere, which can affect the space weather around Earth.

“When the moon is in front of the sun, it’s really the only time you can study the corona from Earth,” Fernandez said.

[Watch below: Florida eclipse path simulation]

By studying the corona, solar scientists can learn more about the behavior of the sun.

Aug. 21 will be Dove’s first total eclipse, and she she is hoping for good weather. Both UCF faculty members were happy to see the hype around the eclipse.

“It’s got a lot of lot of interest, and I think that’s great in getting people excited about astronomy in a different way,” Dove said. “I hope there are lots of little budding scientists that want to study the sun or the moon after this.”

Fernandez, who watched his first solar eclipse in 1991, said it’s pure luck that we are able to even see the rare astronomical phenomenon.

“You can really see why people become totally obsessed about seeing these things, or will fly all over the world to see them,” Fernandez said.

Viewers at UCF will see an 85 percent eclipse -- the deepest in more than 47 years.

Planetarium, with 5,000 pairs of solar glasses, ready largest local celebration

One of the largest events in Central Florida will take place at the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College in Lake Mary.

Planetarium coordinator Michael McConville said if the weather is good, they expect more than 4,000 people to attend the event that starts at noon. More than 2,700 people have expressed interest on the Facebook event page.

Volunteers with the Central Florida Astronomical Association Society will be at Seminole State to help visitors look at the event through telescopes, with solar filters, to view the sun.

In order to make sure people can safely view the solar eclipse, the planetarium has several types of filters. Planetarium coordinator McConville explained to News 6 what the eclipse will look like to the viewer depending on the filter.

“These are designed to be the most durable of all the solar filter and usually are going to show the sun as a neutral white color,” McConville said while holding up a glass solar filter.

Glass filters are great for viewing the eclipse because they show more details, including solar features and sunspots, McConville said.

Michael McConville, planetarium coordinator, places a solar filter on a telescope. The Emil Buehler Planetarium is hosting one of the largest solar eclipse gatherings on Aug. 21, 2017.

Mylar film solar filters are a less expensive but also less durable.

“This is going to give the sun an orange color cast; it looks a little more natural or what you would expect to see,” McConville said.

But the easiest solar filter anyone can use are solar glasses, which have small pieces of Mylar film.

“It’s really impressive the first time you see it, especially since the sun is a whole lot smaller than you’d expect,” McConville said of the eclipse. “One of the reasons the eclipse happens at all is because even though are moon is 400 times smaller than our sun, it also happens to be 400 times closer.”

Because of those sizes, when the sun, moon and Earth line up, we get a solar eclipse and can view it with our own eyes, using filtered glasses.

McConville said the planetarium has more than 5,000 solar eclipse glasses to hand out on Aug. 21. Astronomy Director Derek Demeter and McConville spent a few days delivering 50 solar glasses to each elementary school in Seminole County, including two charter schools.

"If we can give those students an opportunity, a gateway if you will, to be able to experience something that is absolutely magnetic for the first time in their life, then we have future astronauts and future technology leaders and future scientists," McConville said.

NASA has a list of recommended glasses, which can be ordered online. Supplies started selling as the eclipse countdown hype started picking up. The American Astronomical Society also has checklist to make sure your glasses are actually safe for viewing the eclipse.

Public libraries, including those in Orange County, around the U.S. are giving out more than 2 million pairs of eclipse glasses.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex

Parkgoers at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be able to experience the partial eclipse from the Rocket Garden and watch the total eclipse on LED screens.

Visitors to the park on Aug. 21 will receive solar glasses at the front entrance with general admission. Starting at 11 a.m. NASA’s eclipse livestream coverage will be broadcast from the Rocket Garden.

Kid-friendly activities, such as creating sun spotters, will also be set up in the garden.

Orlando Science Center, Dr. Phillip’s Center and Winter Park

The Orlando Science Center will offer eclipse-themed activities on Aug. 21, which will be included with the cost of general admission.

The Center is also arranging for pop-up viewing locations that will be free and open to the public at Central Park West Meadow in Winter Park and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts downtown. Orlando Science Center staff will be at the pop-up locations handing out solar glasses from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Workers downtown can pop out for their lunch during the eclipse. Food trucks will be at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Visitors can view the 85 percent eclipse through telescopes with solar filters and safety solar glasses.

More information about the community events is available at http://www.osc.org/eclipse/.

Peak eclipse time happens at 2:45 p.m. at these locations.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Event addresses

UCF Reflecting Pond
4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, Florida 32816
Reflecting Pond

Seminole State College of Florida
(Sidewalks in front of the Automotive Technology building )
100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford, Florida 32773

Florida Tech
F.W. Olin Physical Sciences Center, 3114 Engineering St., Melbourne, Florida 32901

Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex ($$)
Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, Titusville, Florida 32899

Orlando Science Center ($$)
777 E. Princeton St., Orlando, Florida 32803

Central Park West Meadow
150 W. Morse Blvd. Winter Park, Florida 32789

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
445 S. Magnolia Ave. Orlando, Florida 32801