South Louisiana should have near-perfect viewing weather on Monday when the moon crosses in front of the sun, creating a partial solar eclipse in the state, a segment of the first total solar eclipse in 99 years to sweep across the continental U.S.
Whether in an area to watch the full or partial eclipse, enthusiasts are encouraging everyone to take time to safely enjoy this astronomical wonder.
In the Baton Rouge area, the eclipse will begin at 11:54 a.m. Central Time, will reach its midway point at 1:26 p.m., and end at 2:57 p.m. Louisiana is expected to experience 70 to 80 percent coverage of the sun, while the moon's shadow is cast upon the ground.
"I would think most of the area will probably be rain free at the time," said forecaster Robert Ricks, in the National Weather Service's Slidell office. "We're thinking it's probably going to hold off until after the eclipse."
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Ricks said the weather for Monday is looking similar to Sunday, with mostly sunny skies early in the day, and clouds and rain developing later in the afternoon. When the eclipse begins, he said, the loss of solar heat will help hold off cloud formation, and will bring the temperature down two or three degrees.
"The trends that you would normally see around 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, that's what you can expect during the eclipse," Ricks said. The chance of rain on Monday before noon was 11 percent as of Sunday afternoon, he said.
Highland Road Park Observatory manager Christopher Kersey said they are expecting a big crowd Monday to watch the astronomical event.
He hopes everyone stays excited and invested no matter the circumstances.
"Don't panic about the solar viewer (glasses). That's one of many ways to view it," Kersey said. "Don't shed a tear if it's rainy or cloudy. There are still many ways we can take part."
The park's viewing event will have a limited number of solar viewing glasses for attendees, but he expects those will quickly run out. The park also will have three solar-safe telescopes people can use to watch the eclipse, one projection device to view the sun without looking at the sky, as well as live feeds showing the totality tracks of the eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina.
The park will also have food for sale from City Gelato and Leila Lagniappe, and musician Billy Callaway will provide live music.
At noon, the Louisiana Art and Science Museum will hold a casual event behind its planetarium theater on the Mississippi River levee. The museum will also have a solar viewing telescope available as well as several other indirect-viewing creations, said Hayley Westphal, the museum's audience engagement and public relations manager.
Those two options are perfect for attendees without solar viewing glasses, Westphal said.
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Belmont Gardens Library will be hosting an adult-only viewing party, with access to solar viewing glasses, for 50 pre-registered guests.
LSU is holding a "Solar Eclipse at the Start" event from noon to 2 p.m. on campus. Eclipse glasses will be available for students, faculty and staff at the Parade Ground, or if the weather turns inclement, at the LSU Union Theater, said Alison Satake, LSU media relations.
And joining in the Great American Eclipse, an LSU-led team of students, faculty and staff from the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium will launch two high-altitude balloons Monday. The effort is a part of NASA's project to live-stream aerial footage of the moon's shadow, Satake said.
Kersey said he expects everyone from college students, to children, to home-schooled students, people on their lunch breaks and retired folks to take part in the eclipse viewing.
Anyone without the special viewing glasses can create homemade viewing devices from household items.
LSU physics and astronomy professor Dana Browne created a website, the Solar Eclipse Teacher's Toolkit, to help K-12 science teachers find safe ways for students to engage, and help them teach younger audiences about the eclipse.
"There's no reason to trap them inside the classroom and have them miss it," Kersey said. "I hope that each kid gets some live direct contact with the eclipse in our area. … It's the same danger as every day."
The danger that comes with watching eclipses is simply that people are planning to spend time looking up at the sky, and any direct eye contact with solar rays can cause severe damage to the eye. During a partial eclipse, the sun is always at least partially exposed, which means it is never safe to look directly at the spectacle.
Dr. David Fargason, an ophthalmologist with Our Lady of the Lake's Eye Medical Center, explained that looking at the sun any day of the year can cause eye damage, but the opportunity for such damage increases with people planning to watch the sky Monday.
"Even though part of the sun will be obscured, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to look directly at the eclipse," Fargason wrote on the Our Lady of the Lake blog. "Because some of the sun will be visible in Louisiana for the entire duration of the eclipse, you must wear special solar eclipse viewers or filters to avoid harming the retina."
Fargason warned that there is no feeling of pain during such damaging exposure, so it's important to double check solar filters and solar viewing glasses for any damage, like scratches or holes, before using them.
"If you want to capture the event on your smartphone, remember to put a filter over the lens," Fargason wrote. "When looking through the lens, always keep your solar eclipse glasses on."
Many schools, even elementary schools, have decided to incorporate the eclipse into their school day. For the last few days, Woodlawn Elementary teacher Cindy McMaster has been working with fellow teachers to educate their students on the partial solar eclipse. They are planning to rotate third, fourth and fifth graders through activities about the partial eclipse, including observing it, McMaster said.
McMaster attended a NASA educators' program this summer which helped her prepare for the eclipse and provided materials for students, including viewing glasses.
"They're excited, teachers are excited," McMaster said. "That's why we're here as educators, to introduce kids to knowledge and make them excited about learning."
At Galvez Middle School more than 600 students made solar viewing devices, said science teacher Michelle Savoy. The STEM club at Baton Rouge Magnet High School is planning to watch the eclipse together after building some viewing devices.
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At the Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, students will spend the day engaged in eclipse-related activities, reading about different cultures' myths about the eclipse, making their own viewing devices, and moving in concentric circles to music, mimicking the movements of the earth, moon and sun.
As safety, weather and the solar system seemingly align Monday, Kersey said he hopes the phenomenon will generate continued interest in the universe.
"Make this the beginning of your hobby of astronomy," Kersey said. "There's eclipses of the moon. There are meteor showers that occur during the year like clockwork. Use this as a starting point for learning more about astronomy."