Paul Motts of Bethel, seen Feb. 24, plans to present a free program at 7 p.m. Monday on solar eclipses at Gould Academy in the McLaughlin Science Center Auditorium. Motts enjoys chasing eclipses and plans to be in Texas for the April 8 eclipse. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — Paul Motts of Bethel plans to present a free program about solar eclipses at 7 p.m. on Monday at Gould Academy in the McLaughlin Science Center Auditorium. 

The program will focus on how ancient cultures perceived eclipses, why eclipses occur and how to be prepared for the April 8 eclipse. Eclipse glasses will be for sale at $3 each, with a maximum of three per person. 

Before coming to Bethel, Motts was an interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service, where he delivered programs on lunar eclipses. 

Motts plans to be in Texas on April 8 to see his fifth total eclipse of the sun. 


The length of totality on April 8 — or the stage of a solar eclipse in which the moon completely blocks the sun — will be longer by nearly two minutes in Texas than in Maine, Motts said, and the weather outlook is 70% more favorable.


“Maine is questionable,” he said.

Bethel is not in the path of totality.

He said, “You have to go to the path of totality. Go to Cleveland (Ohio) or to Rochester (New York), or if you really want to drive go to Texas. The further south people go, the better.”

Motts said he likes to use an analogy when people choose not to head to totality. “You go to an opera house … and you leave before the curtain rises. In both cases, the eclipse and the opera, you have missed the main event.”

In fact, he recommends attending an event like the one that will be held in Craftsbury, Vermont, where part of the celebration will be keeping track of the time. Rangeley is another option for totality, he said.

He recommends people choose two or three sites in the path of totality, scouted out beforehand. Check the weather forecast and be especially careful of frontal weather systems because they can last up to several days, he said.


Motts said, “It is all a gamble, you go and take your chances … some of the best eclipse experiences have been when it’s cloudy … then suddenly a clear spot opens up.”

First four

Motts’ first eclipse was off the coast of Africa. He was a teenager in 1973 when he saw a seven-minute, three-second eclipse. It had been the longest eclipse since the year 1098. He said there won’t be another one as long until the year 2150.

The expedition off the coast of Africa was with astronauts Scott Carpenter and Neil Armstrong; writer Isaac Asimov; and other astronomers and weather experts.

In 1998, he saw his second eclipse from a ship in the Caribbean.

In 2006, he traveled in an armed convoy of buses to a Libyan desert to see his first on-land eclipse.


In 2017, he was in Stanley, Idaho, where as darkness ascended he heard sandpipers returning to their nests. For the April 8 eclipse he’ll head by train to Texas with his wife, Gretchen.

“To see a total eclipse is one of the most amazing experiences anyone will ever witness … it is that incredible. When you are looking at the eclipse you can hardly believe it is happening,” Motts said.

Besides the totality itself, he said the quivering, shadow bands that move at 200 mph are pretty incredible. He saw those only once, during the Libyan eclipse.

According to NASA’s website, shadow bands are thin, wavy lines of alternating light and dark that can be seen moving on plain-colored surfaces immediately before and after a total solar eclipse. 

Motts said if you have seen a total eclipse, you will want to see another one.

What to expect


The changes start about 15 minutes before totality, when the sky transitions from blue to gray, Motts explained.

“About five minutes before is an eerie feeling,” said Motts. “Birds are starting to go to their roost … then things happen really quickly … the diamond ring (effect), totality hits and if you’re among a group you’ll hear a tremendous roar of  “Wow!” and then — there it is before you.”

People should expect this eclipse to be different from the 2017 eclipse, which was a minute shorter. “This time the skies will be a lot darker and you will be able to see the corona,” said Motts.

The corona is the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere and is usually hidden by the bright light of the sun’s surface, according to NASA’s website.

Eye safety

Motts strongly cautions against looking at the eclipse. “People go blind looking at eclipses,” he said.

“One thing that happens is the lenses in our eyes act as tiny magnifiers, like when people take a magnifier to a leaf and it burns … once you get a retina burn they are irreversible, ” he said.

Even while wearing black polymer glasses, people shouldn’t look for more than a second or two. “You can’t be too overcautious,” he said.

“It’s so surreal. It totally takes your breath away … every eclipse has been an amazing experience … I remember every one so vividly. Even though this is my fifth eclipse, I remember every detail about all of the other eclipses, that’s how powerful it was,” said Motts.

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