PHILLIPS — Paul Motts of Bethel plans to present a program about solar eclipses at 2 pm. on Saturday, March 30 at the Phillips Area Community Center (The PACC) on Depot St in Phillips.

The program will focus on how ancient cultures perceived eclipses, why eclipses occur and how to be prepared for the April 8 eclipse. Winona Davenport, who recently attended his presentation, was so impressed that she asked Motts to offer his presentation on March 30 prior to the PACC’s viewing celebration on April 8. Donations will be welcomed and appreciated at the presentation.

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

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.

(Some information reprinted from The Bethel Citizen, by Rose Lincoln)

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