Countdown on: Lincoln and LPS students to stand in shadow of the moon

The countdown is on and eclipse geeks across the world are watching: On August 21, midday, smack dab in the middle of Lincoln, the skies will darken, birds will roost, crickets chirp, temperatures drop and our entire community will stand in the shadow of the moon.

“A total solar eclipse is an incredibly big deal, and you’re going to be ambassadors for this eclipse, telling our community how this event is exciting and relevant,” Kate Russo told an audience of Lincoln Public Schools employees this week.  “It is your responsibility to educate, to share the message:  This is a once in a lifetime chance. Don’t miss it. You will remember this moment for the rest of your life.”

Russo – an eclipse expert, author and self-proclaimed eclipse chaser – came to Nebraska this week to inspire and excite Lincoln citizens about the unique event. The path of totality – anywhere you can view moments of a full eclipse – stretches across the United States and through 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina, with Lincoln falling somewhere toward the center.

LPS is honoring the event by heading outdoors, taking every student – grades first through 12th – and guiding them to witness the event through medically approved viewing lenses.  “This event is unique, only occurring once every 500 years in the Midwest, and we want to help make this something your student will remember forever,” says James Blake, K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist at LPS.

Russo applauds LPS and notes that, in fact, the last time there was a full solar eclipse in this area – a time when the moon completely blocks out the sun – was back in 1442 when there was no Lincoln and no Nebraska.

“I’m just an ordinary psychologist originally from Australia, but I fell in love with eclipses the first time I saw a total solar eclipse in Paris in 1999,” Russo said, vividly describing her experience.

“I remember the charged atmosphere, knowing something special was going to happen. It’s something like an approaching storm, it’s alive and very dramatic…As it gets darker and darker, and the moment gets closer and closer, I remember the feeling of getting goosebumps, the light getting eerie, the temperatures dropping, the shadows becoming strange. 

“Then it happens. It’s like someone has moved the dimmer switch down and you are cast in darkness. I had studied all the facts and figures and I knew what was happening.  But I wasn’t prepared for a kind of other-worldly feeling…the feeling of being lifted up, that you are part of something bigger. I felt like nothing else existed in the world around me. I was purely in the moment.  It was the feeling of something so significant, and being connected to something so much greater.”

When you are standing in the moon’s shadow, Russo said, “you are standing in the vastness of the universe. It is stunning….feeling awe on a scale I’ve never felt before. I was a human being standing on the planet experiencing this incredible thing…Suddenly there’s a hole in the sky where the sun should be, and you are bathing in the presence of the universe.”

Russo loved that first Paris eclipse so much, she knew she had to see one again – and again. Several years after Paris she traveled to Madagascar for the full solar eclipse there – and many more following that, traveling by camel, canoe, mini-van. “Not every eclipse chaser is a bearded man,” she said, laughing.

In fact, Russo sees an eclipse as a metaphor for life: “The moment of totality for an eclipse is brief and intense, just like life.  It is a precious moment. It is a magical moment. There is a feeling of connection to something greater. It is a true human experience that can transform you.”

Her best advice: Don’t try taking photographs the first time you view a total eclipse – and don’t choose the moment for something like a marriage proposal.  “Just be in the moment. Look around, look up, enjoy what’s happening around you – and all the elements of the spectacle." 

Watch for what is called the “diamond ring,” heralding the beginning of the total eclipse, and the ending. During the moments of totality, relish viewing the sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, likely appearing as a wispy shape around the moon – “a whispery silvery light.” 

“I think you’ll find that your students will love this, they will be captivated. It’s the coolest thing ever – and better if you have activities for them to do during the event.  They will ask the most amazing questions. Have them draw pictures, write stories, measure temperature changes. Get them involved.”

Russo’s latest book is called, “Being in the Shadow, Stories of the First Time Eclipse Experiences,” and describes what she calls ordinary people witnessing a total eclipse for the very first time. 

“If everyone could experience a total solar eclipse the world would be a better place,” she said.  “It would unite us. We are all human beings and we are all just the same as we stand in the shadow of the moon.”

Published: June 20, 2017, Updated: June 20, 2017