Mizzou astronomy director's goal: Everyone 'looking at the sky' Monday

Astronomer prepared for eclipse since day 1 at University of Missouri

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Almost immediately, the Great American Eclipse became part of Dr. Angela Speck's role when she started at the University of Missouri 15 years ago.

Having just missed a total solar eclipse in Great Britain to come teach at the university in Columbia, Missouri, it became obvious the 2017 eclipse was going to be a big event there.

"Local amateur (astronomers) were like, 'You know this is coming, you need to be ready,'" Speck said. "They already had T-shirts."

The sun, isn't part of Speck's area of study, but outreach is a passion of hers and she was up to the task. News 6 spoke to the the astronomer ahead of her talk, open to the public, at the Life Sciences Building on campus discussing the research that will happen during the eclipse.

The university is involved in several scientific studies during the eclipse, including Citizen Kate, which examines the sun's corona, and a NASA-funded atmospheric study led by students.

Speck, whose enthusiasm for space science pours out of her, was sporting Katy Perry's Hayley star sandals and a galaxy-patterned skirt for her talk. Dozens of people were at the auditorium sporting their Missouri-inspired eclipse T-shirts and cued up with questions for their local expert.

"This is just one of those opportunities to really reach out to the public, so, to me, it was always a no-brainer," Speck said about organizing one of the largest gatherings for the eclipse.

Speck, the director of astronomy at University of Missouri, is also a chair member of the American Astronomical Society's task force responsible for the national planning for the Great American Eclipse. She said she had been bugging AAS for years to start planning for the eclipse. Finally, they gave her the green light and asked her to lead the effort.

The task force made up of a dozen people made up of solar physicists, outreach experts and eclipse chasers.

If the sky is clear, the campus could host up to 200,000-300,000 people for the event, which falls on the first day of the fall semester at the university.

Columbia will experience 2 minutes and 37 seconds of full-moon-like darkness that will start at 1:12 p.m.

But Speck's mission goes beyond the Columbia campus, her goal: "I want everybody in the entire country looking at the sky on Monday," she said. "Whether you are on the path of totality or not you're going to see a partial eclipse."

No matter the number, Speck has made it her mission to get everyone outside staring at the sun on Monday. Part of that goal, is making sure people are prepared to safely watch the eclipse without fear.

"There is a lot of scare mongering and people seem to think that somehow it's dangerous," Speck said. "Apart from wanting to look at the sun, that's the only danger."

Speck, who has become the local authority on eclipse glasses has a fool proof method for making sure the glasses actually block out the sun's harmful rays, but still allow a person to watch the eclipse. Put the glasses on, walk up to a bright light bulb and if you don't see anything, the glasses should be fine.

"You may see some brown vagueness," Speck said, but beyond that nothing else should come through solar eclipse glasses if they are safe.

While News 6 was on campus Saturday, students were stopping by the bookstore picking up tiger-stripped eclipse glasses by the handful for $2 a piece. It was the one place along the path of totality that had not sold out of glasses ahead of the eclipse.

Still, Speck said she expects the glasses to sell out ahead of Monday afternoon for totality, but she doesn't want anyone to miss out. Pinhole projectors or watching the NASA live stream are available for free.

"Everybody can see this with minimal spending," Speck said. "To me, if I don't pull in the entirety of the public then I'm doing something wrong."

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