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Photo: JACQUELINE DORMER, License: N/A

TIMES-SHAMROCK PHOTO/JACQUELINE DORMER Jeffery L. Walters, Pottsville, shows a pair of glasses to view the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

For millennia, watching the stars in the sky has been a spiritual experience.

This Aug. 21, it continues right in our backyards — the first solar eclipse in 99 years to go across the entire continental United States, according to local expert and “umbraphile,” William Speare, former director of the Everhart Museum observatory, said.

For the record, an umbraphile is a shadow lover, but in this case it is one who loves and chases solar eclipses, basking in the majesty of the phenomenon, Speare said.

Speare said a solar eclipse is like nothing else, and he has traveled around the world twice, both ways, to over 31 countries, and all seven continents to see them.

“The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is like having 5 numbers off on a Powerball ticket,” Speare said. “Solar eclipses have literally changed history. The boundaries of some countries were defined by solar eclipses.”

A solar eclipse — when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, fully or partially blocking the sun — happens fully at least two times a year, Speare said. But with over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface being water, it quite often happens in the middle of an ocean.

“It’s quite a phenomenon to see the entire sun blocked off,” Speare said.“It’s a very spiritual thing. It’s certainly without question the most beautiful phenomenon in nature. Illustrations and photographs, motion pictures don’t do it justice.”

The path of totality, where the moon will completely block the sun, will be most visible on Aug. 21 in Tennessee and Kentucky, Speare said, but in Northeast Pennsylvania, the sun will be about 72 percent blocked, creating an interesting light and atmosphere, Speare said.

“If you did not know that an eclipse was taking place, you’d have no idea that anything out of the ordinary was happening,” Speare said. “When the sun is a little over 55 percent blocked, the sky takes on a deeper color if it’s a perfectly beautiful day.”

Wilkes University senior, Emily Deangelis, has gathered on the campus lawns with other students to watch astronomical phenomenon — such as a blood moon and lunar eclipses — but they’ve all been at night time.

Watching a solar eclipse can be dangerous, and can lead to partial blindness, Speare said. You shouldn’t gaze at the sun without proper eyewear — made of mylar — or #14 welder glasses are also safe options that can be bought online, Speare said.

But also, local observatories are opening their doors to the public to safely view the solar eclipse with properly filtrated glasses and telescopes on Aug. 21.

The Friedman Observatory at Penn State Wilkes-Barre will open free to the public from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 21. Visitors can use special glasses available at the observatory, or look through a new solar telescope.

“If you want to see something coo, come on out,” Penn State Wilkes-Barre strategic communications director Rachel Olszewski said. “Whether there are 5 or 500 people, we’re sharing this with the community.”

The Keystone College Thomas Cupillari Observatory in Dalton will also be open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m.

“You meet some interesting folks and get to see some interesting places,” Speare said. “It’s quite a phenomenon.”

The facts:

The last time there was a solar eclipse across the entire continental United States was in June 1918, 99 years ago.

Pennsylvania will experience about 70 percent totality — most but not all of the Sun will be blocked by the Sun.

The path of totality is 60 - 70 miles wide, and it will go from Oregon to South Carolina.

The solar eclipse will be the most visible in parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.

You should never look directly at the sun, it can cause blindness. Proper eye protection is made out of mylar.

In 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross some northwestern counties of Pennsylvania, near Erie.

Viewing locations:

* The Keystone College Thomas Cupillari Observatory, Aug. 21, 1 to 4 p.m.

Located at the intersection of Hack Road and Route 107, Hack Road, Dalton, PA 18414. 570-945-8402.

* The Friedman Observatory at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Aug. 21, 1 to 3:30 p.m.

Located on Nittany Drive in Lehman Twp.

For information contact Dr. Violet Mager at vam5238@psu.edu.