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Nebraska colleges, universities see eclipse as educational opportunity

Nebraska colleges, universities see eclipse as educational opportunity
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Darkness will drive some colleges and universities across Nebraska to shed light this month on physics and astronomy.

Colleges such as the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Concordia University in Seward plan to fill their stadiums with students and visitors for the total solar eclipse Aug. 21. The eclipse will sweep through the state, and some professors and institutions view the phenomenon as an opportunity to teach college students and younger kids about astronomy, space and science in general.

At least one college, Central Community College in Grand Island, decided to move the first day of school from Aug. 21 to the following day so that it wouldn’t compete with the eclipse and the many visitors who are expected to pour into town.

This is a rare chance to view a natural wonder, said Kent Reinhard, an instructor of physics and astronomy at Southeast Community College’s Lincoln campus. “It’s just a great opportunity for anybody who has any kind of interest in the world around them.”

So rare is the opportunity, Reinhard said, that he requested Aug. 21, 2017, off seven years ago. He said he was torn between staying on campus and going out on his own to view the eclipse. He chose the latter so he could drive a great distance to find clear sky in case it’s a cloudy day in eastern Nebraska.

Jack Gabel, associate professor of physics at Creighton University, said he has never seen a total eclipse.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s jaw-dropping — awe-inspiring like no other natural event people have seen before,” Gabel said. “There’s so many good things about this.”

The last time a total eclipse went from one coast of the nation to the other was 99 years ago. The approximately 70-mile-wide swath called the “path of totality,” in which darkness will fall for up to 2½ minutes as the moon covers the sun, crosses Nebraska diagonally on a 470-mile path. Those communities outside the zone of totality, such as Omaha, Columbus, Nebraska City and Ogallala, will see a partial eclipse.

Experts say special eye protection is essential.

Gabel said he has been delighted by the many questions he’s been asked by members of the public, such as where one should go to view the eclipse, what will happen, how to view it safely, why the eclipse is happening and how rare it is.

It will cross Nebraska at a good time, too: midday. “So it just couldn’t be more ideal, really,” he said.

Following are some of the activities and observances on Nebraska campuses:

» Donde Plowman, executive vice chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, encouraged the instructors of all 270 classes meeting during the eclipse to interrupt class and allow students to see it.

» Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha tentatively plans a viewing party for students and staff with SunChips and SunnyD beverages.

» Mid-Plains Community College will bus students and staffers from its McCook campus to its North Platte campus. North Platte is in the zone of totality.

» All three of Western Nebraska Community College’s campuses are taking an hourlong break for cookies and eclipse viewing. Safety glasses and brochures on the phenomenon also will be distributed.

» Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln is canceling classes for an hour for eclipse viewing.

» At Metro Community College’s Fort Omaha campus, special sunglasses will be passed out and a viewing held at the gazebo.

» At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, members of the Student Involvement Office will hand out safety glasses.

» Union College in Lincoln will hold a picnic for students and staffers, and campus clubs will hand out Moon Pies and Eclipse gum.

Some professors and colleges are holding events leading up to the eclipse. For instance, Creighton’s Gabel will give a free lecture at 5:30 p.m. today at Creighton’s Rigge Science Building lecture hall, Room 120. The discussion is open to the public. Free eclipse-viewing glasses will be given out while supplies last.

Southeast Community College will organize sessions with the Omaha Astronomy Club at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 in Beatrice, Hebron, Plattsmouth, Falls City, Nebraska City and Wahoo at $10 per person. Most sites will use audio-visual technology to beam in the session. The registration deadline is today. For information, call Lyn Belitz at 800-828-0072 ext. 2298.

Todd Young, director of the Wayne State College Planetarium, will host a free session on the phenomenon at noon Aug. 15 at the College Center in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

Central Community College will have Jim Greenhouse, space science director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, speak at 3 p.m. Aug. 20 at College Park in Grand Island. Admission is $5.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123, twitter.com/rickruggles

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