22 Aug
Posted in: Uncategorized
By    No Comments

Eclipse draws thousands to Frosty Drew


He’s either using a home made viewer or looking for food. You decide.

From a distance, Monday’s partial solar eclipse activities at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown looked more like the Newport Folk Festival than a celestial event. Blankets, beach chairs, and kids were everywhere, especially under the trees. Some were playing soccer, some were eating, and some were doing various juggling activities. There was a sense of celebration as visitors snaked their way through lines to an assortment of telescopes set up by the observatory to display the Rhode Island version of the first total eclipse visible in the continental United States in 38 years. If there were any complaints that the local view would be of an approximate 66% coverage of the sun, folks kept it to themselves.

The observatory had a limited supply of the special viewing glasses needed for safe observation that were long gone by 1:30. Volunteers stood at various locations letting those without get looks through borrowed pairs. There were also several large computer screens set up that provided real time views of the eclipse, along with several solar telescopes designed to bring out various aspects of the sun, such as sun spots.

Live feed of the eclipse from Frosty Drew’s telescope.

And if the Kentucky Derby is known for its unique displays of elaborate hats, the Frosty Drew eclipse would be notable for its homemade eclipse viewers. Some were simple: cereal boxes seemed especially popular, with no elaborate design other than a pinhole at one end and viewing hole at the other. Others were larger and sometimes more complicated looking, including at least one four-foot narrow box with tubes sticking out of it. One man sat in the field with a big screen TV box over his head.

Jon and Kristen Croner sat on the steps of the observatory nature center, along with their children Eli and Ariel. From Princeton, NJ, they visit Narragansett every year. They carried three viewing boxes with them, which they gladly demonstrated. The boxes, of the shoe and cereal variety, were tidily constructed. Perhaps a bit too tidily to have been made by the kids. When questioned, Kristen admitted that she was the engineer. “I got up early, and while the kids were still asleep, went online and found directions,” she laughed.

The Croner family demonstrates their eclipse viewers.

Even colanders made for easy viewers. When held up with one hand, and the other hand stretched down and holding a paper plate, the ersatz scientific aid projected multiple views of the eclipse.

Scott MacNeill, observatory director and astronomer with Brown University, bounced back and forth on the edges of the lines playing host. One minute he was caught up in explaining complex celestial events, including the axial rotations of the earth, moon, and sun. In the next minute, he deftly shifted to waving a colander around to show “multiple eclipses”. At one point a woman said that she had seen him at a lecture. Though he didn’t recognize her, he demurred by telling her “I’m an astronomer. We don’t come out in the daylight!”

Ernie Evans, whose nametag sported the title “Sky Evangelist”, stood by a small scope which projected an image of the sun onto a square of white cardboard. Evans has been an “evangelist” since 2000, but has spent 60 years as an enthusiastic amateur. “Back then, the skies were much darker,” he said (light pollution, the dimming of celestial views due to artificial lighting, has been on the increase for years). Evans stood in a floppy hat to protect him from the strong sun, wearing a purple long sleeved shirt and patiently answering questions as people stepped up to the scope.

“Sky Evangelist” Ernie Evans fielding questions.

“I can’t really see the moon,” one adult said to him, looking at the crescent that was burgeoning by the minute. “The bright one is the sun. The dark one is the moon,” he deadpanned. An eight –year-old piped up, “That looks like the crescent of the moon!”

MacNeill said that there were roughly 2,000 people in attendance. Despite the turnout, the eclipse was not the observatory’s biggest crowd. That record is held by the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2015, with roughly 4,000 spread across the playing fields of Ninigret Park that surround the observatory. Still, “Things went really well. I’m very happy with the way things went. There were no problems whatsoever.”

And how many future astronomers were created that day? “That’s hard to say, but right now I’m on the lookout for the first Mars astronaut! We’ll be on Mars by 2030, so the kids in elementary and middle school that I talk to will actually be able to get to Mars. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

A man and his box.

Leave a comment