Faye Schrater and her husband, Durango Mayor Dick White, are repeat eclipse viewers. Their interest will take them to eastern Wyoming next month to see the total solar eclipse as it makes a pass diagonally across the United States.
Schrater is a microbiologist and immunologist who met White as a fellow professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. They share an interest in solar eclipses, and this will be the third time Schrater will see a total solar eclipse.
Schrater traveled to Virginia Beach in 1970 to watch her first total solar eclipse.
“The eclipse at Virginia Beach was the most magical celestial event I’ve ever witnessed,” Schrater said.
She said the change in light and drop in temperature that occurs during an eclipse showed her the incredible power of the heat and light of the sun.
Schrater’s second total solar eclipse was shared with White on July 11, 1991. It was his first time seeing a total solar eclipse, and it was on the couple’s third wedding anniversary.
White and Schrater took a cruise on the Sea of Cortez, between Baja and the coast of Mexico.
“The cruise was designed for people to watch the eclipse. It was a very science-oriented crowd on the boat,” White said. “After the eclipse, there was a pod of dolphins doing backflips. They knew something strange had happened.” (According to NASA, “it has been reported during many eclipses that many different animals are startled by totality and change their behavior, thinking that twilight has arrived”).
White has been fascinated by space since he was a child.
He was a freshman in high school when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, into orbit. The event further fueled his interest in the stars.
“I started with an interest in the space program. I was a science fiction buff to begin with,” White said. “I used to dream about being an astronaut.”
Competition is stiff to become an astronaut, and applicants must pass rigorous physical exams and excel in their college coursework.
Because White uses corrective lenses, he did not qualify for NASA’s astronaut program. Today, NASA is not so strict about its vision requirements.
White was not deterred, however, and later earned a doctorate in astronomy from Columbia University in New York and worked as a professor of astronomy at Smith College for 28 years.
On Aug. 21, Durangoans have the chance to see roughly 80 percent of the August total eclipse from 10:18 a.m. to 1:09 p.m., with the peak occurring around 11:41 a.m.
“A partial eclipse is really fascinating. The sun can be seen as a crescent. It gets pretty dark because even a sliver of the sun is an amazing amount of light,” White said. “Suddenly, the sun is gone and it is deep twilight.”
White has two tips for people wanting to view the solar eclipse from Durango.
Most importantly is to never look directly at the sun. Even with protective eyewear, there is a chance you can badly damage your eyesight, White said.
“The safest way to view the eclipse is to project it,” White said. “You can make a pinhole camera or you can point binoculars at the sun and project that image on the ground or on light colored paper.”
For those not able to make a pinhole camera, one is naturally occurring. Light passing between the leaves of a tree acts as a projector.
“It is unexpected, but any tree that has leaves that casts a shadow, sunlight filters through every one of those apertures,” White said. “You can have a hundred crescent suns projected on the ground.”