The 12-year-old peered at the sun through the airport window as the moon’s shape slowly carved into the sun’s light.
Alan Corey and his family had brought cards with pinholes to cast the image of the disappearing sun, since looking directly at the sun damages eyes and can cause blindness.
But Corey’s gaze kept returning to the sky to watch the 1991 annular eclipse — when the moon partially blocks the sun. Though incredible, it’s nowhere near the experience expected to draw at least 35,000 to Casper for the total eclipse Monday, he said.
Corey doesn’t remember seeing the peak of the annular eclipse, probably because it became too cloudy, he recalled last week. But he does remember the half-moon shape of the sun glowing against the shadow, the way the defined outline of a light bulb appears when you look at it long enough. The sky darkened a little, like it was a rainy day.
“I clearly remember it being a phenomenal sight,” Corey said.
He was so entranced by the view that he continued to look at the eclipse without eye protection, eventually burning a white circle into the center of his vision. An eye doctor later confirmed scar tissue on his corneas. Alhough eye exams sill reveal damage, he was lucky: The spot eventually went away.
But his eclipse-fueled enthusiasm for astronomy didn’t.
Now Corey is president of the Central Wyoming Astronomical Society, which is preparing for the total solar eclipse and the expected influx of tens of thousands of visitors.
The society’s members are planning day and night telescope viewings for the public the weekend before the eclipse. He said he looks forward to sharing astronomy with other aficionados and those exploring the science for the first time.
It’s the precision found throughout the universe that’s always intrigued him about astronomy, he said. Many might describe the universe as chaotic. That may be partially true, especially when thinking of the explosions on the sun’s surface and its geomagnetic storms that can wreak havoc on satellites.
But a closer look at how the sun’s fine-tuned physical system works and rules that govern nuclear fusion show it’s anything but chaos, he said. The movements of planets and moons are so predictable that we know down to fractions of a second how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun in a year.
“I think the same could be applied to the eclipse,” Corey said. “Scientists have predicted this eclipse down to the second. And while you could say that’s just good mathematics, those calculations wouldn’t work if the exact distance from the Earth the to moon wasn’t known, nor would it be possible if the exact distance from earth to the sun wasn’t known.”
Ready to shine
About seven years ago, Corey discovered in an astronomy book that the eclipse’s path of totality would pass through Casper. Even then — before the hotels sold out and the events were scheduled — he knew it would be a big deal.
“People spend all their lives chasing total eclipses,” Corey said.
He’s thought about chasing them himself. They happen all the time, but they’re often in the middle of the ocean and require expensive travel. However, he does plan on chasing the next total solar eclipse crossing North America in 2024, perhaps catching it in Newfoundland. He also hopes to see the 2035 eclipse in Japan.
But Corey’s first total solar eclipse is coming to his front door.
Corey has researched, read hundreds of first-hand accounts, given viewing advice, planned events to prepare for the experience.
Corey looks forward to fostering the fascination with astronomy that he experienced as a child during the public telescope viewings. Participants will have chances to peer at planets, nebulae, moons and other sights in space. Saturn always is a big hit, and the planet this year is tilted to display all its rings, he said.
“It impresses me every time, whenever a kid sees Saturn,” Corey said. “They kind of look at you, and they think you’re messing with them. And then they look again and realize they really are seeing Saturn. Their eyes just light up.”
After the weekend of astronomy activities, Corey plans to stay home for the eclipse. His house is close to the center line, which offers the maximum amount of time of totality in the area.
He’ll watch with his wife and children, ages 4 and 6, along with other members of his family. He’s thought about heading directly to the center line a few miles away for an extra three seconds of totality. Then again, he has a perfect spot at home, on a street surrounded by prairie and eagles’ nests on the North Platte River.
Corey also plans to set up three telescopes outside his house the night before the eclipse to start tracking the sun and moon. He hopes to capture photos with cameras attached to the telescopes, using a shutter release cord to snap the photos so he won’t have the distraction of looking through the telescopes.
He may glance into the telescopes a few times before or after totality, but the main show will be in the darkening sky.
Viewers are expecting a spectacular show as the sun glints through peaks and valleys in the moon’s surface as totality nears, he said. A black hole appears in the sky during totality, allowing earth in twilight to see the sun’s outer layer, called the corona, flowing into space in wispy-looking streams. The corona can only be seen during a total eclipse, Corey said.
“That is the main event,” he said. “That’s what people are coming here for.”
This time, he’ll be ready with eye protection to watch the moon’s shadow start to overtake the sun. But during the nearly two and a half minutes of totality, people can safely take off their eclipse glasses.
Corey will be able to look straight at the eclipse in wonder, just like he did 26 years ago.
After his years of planning, the excitement and restlessness is setting as he counts down the days.
If a total solar eclipse is what everyone says it will be, Monday will feature one of the most awe-inspiring sights he’ll ever see.
Corey’s also determined not to be disappointed by weather this time. If there’s any chance of clouds, he’ll be gone before sunrise to a backup location.
“There is no force on this Earth that will keep me from seeing the eclipse,” he said.