NASA has officially recognized Bitterroot College as an eclipse event viewing site - one of only three in Montana - for the solar eclipse that will be seen across the Unites States on Aug. 21.
“It is really exciting,” said Victoria Clark, director. “We were thrilled to be approved by NASA and were among the last sites to be approved.”
The college is pulling out all stops to make the “Great Eclipse Caper Event” educational, safe and loads of fun. With the NASA designation comes posters, 1,000 safety viewing glasses, brochures, banners and an encyclopedia of educational options to do during the solar event.
The Bitterroot College Eclipse Event team has safe viewing options planned as part of the celebration.
At the college event, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Monday, Aug. 21, there will be large viewing screens with live streaming from NASA, multiple telescopes with safety filters set up for public viewing (or bring your own), NASA solar glasses, and Thomas Engelmann (Ph.D, Physics, Carnegie-Mellon) will be on-site as the college’s subject matter expert providing information sessions the morning of the event.
If you are unable to get to the college you can watch the live streaming on the Bitterroot College Facebook page.
Even if it is smoky or cloudy the eclipse will happen and safety is the number one goal.
“Cloud cover and smoke still allow the UV rays to come through and cause damage to your eyes,” said Jennifer Johnson, safety officer for the event. “We talk about the use of safety glasses, filters and pinhole projectors as media for viewing the eclipse safely.”
Permanent damage can occur just from glancing at the sun.
“The thing about sunglasses or transition lenses is, yes, there is UV protection but it is only for angular rays,” she said. “It is not for direct sight and eye damages won’t be noticed right away.”
She said welding shield numbers 14 or higher are safe to use, but hot and heavy.
Johnson said telescope viewers need a solar filter on the objective end of telescopes – not on the eyepiece.
“A lot of people think they can just use a filter on the eye-piece of their telescope but when the light comes through your telescope it will burn out of the guts and literally light them on fire,” she said. “Then it will focus on your eye and burn your eye.”
Hamilton is not in the path to see a total eclipse, but will see the sun about 95 percent covered. The peak time will be at 11:31 a.m.
Johnsons said people should prepare their animals.
“It won’t be total darkness but it will be twilight here,” she said.
The “Great Eclipse Caper Event” at Bitterroot College will have educational stations, eclipse viewing, fun theme music and snacks, tours of the college, and activities for all ages.
Eclipse event team member Jaime Middleton said she is proud the college is a designated NASA viewing site.
“I’m surprised at how few Montana sites there are,” she said. “We’re one of three in Montana, well, actually one of two in Montana because the third is a balloon. What a great educational opportunity it is for our local school districts, science teachers and students.”
Along the direct path of the eclipse hotels are booked, some for $2,000 a night in Idaho Falls. But local hotels said they are already mostly full due to Kevin Costner crew coming to film.
Ron Scroggins, temporary general manager of Quality Inn of Hamilton (formerly Townhouse Inn) said the hotel is not booked at this point.
“We still have 15 Rooms available for Aug. 20,” he said. “The Kevin Costner production crew is coming and they want more rooms than I can give them. The town will fill up and people need to book early.”
Lynn Reynoso, front desk clerk at the Bitterroot River Inn and Conference Center, said they have a few rooms available Aug. 20.
“We’re usually booked in August and I don’t know if these bookings are related to the eclipse,” she said.
Middleton said the eclipse event is a big project.
“I was really excited that we were willing to take on a project this big,” she said. “It is un known how many people will attend. It is a big undertaking and a huge need in our community for the education.”
The event team asked people planning to attend the free event to register.
For more information about the event, safe solar eclipse viewing or to register, visit online www.umt.edu/bitterroot-college/Eclipse.