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Science & Technology

Words You'll Hear: Eclipse Cheap Seats

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Now, it's time for our segment Words You'll Hear. And, honestly, what other words could we pick besides total eclipse? Millions of folks all over the U.S. are expected to travel to catch a rare view of the coast-to-coast total eclipse tomorrow, a first in nearly a century. Most of the U.S. isn't in the path of the total eclipse experience, but many places with just a partial view are immersed in full-on eclipse fever, as we hear from Joe Wertz from StateImpact Oklahoma.

JOE WERTZ, BYLINE: The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northern Oklahoma is an ideal spot to see birds and bugs and heavyweight stars of the grassland, bison.

(SOUNDBITE OF BISON)

WERTZ: Katie Hawk with The Nature Conservancy says the preserve is also the perfect setting for viewing Monday's solar eclipse.

KATIE HAWK: Forty-thousand acres of prairie and this clear, open-wide prairie sky.

WERTZ: One hitch - the preserve lies outside the narrow path the total eclipse will trace across the country. The conservancy decided to host an eclipse party anyway, and all the tickets were snapped up in days.

HAWK: It was crazy. It went really fast.

WERTZ: Most of Oklahoma is in the 80 percent eclipse range, but the Tallgrass Prairie is within a small triangle that will have the state's best view as the moon blocks light from the sun.

HAWK: It's in the 90 percent totality viewing region, and what a great experience and opportunity we have here.

WERTZ: That's one take. Here's another.

JAY PASACHOFF: Seeing a 90 percent eclipse is like taking your family 90 percent of the way to Disneyland.

WERTZ: Jay Pasachoff isn't just a buzzkill. He's also an astronomer at Williams College in Massachusetts who has observed 33 solar eclipses. Pasachoff says the 90 percent or 80 percent eclipse most people in the U.S. are in a position to see - it's barely worth the effort.

PASACHOFF: The partial eclipse is not even a cheap seat. The cheap seats are in the stadium. Partial eclipse is outside the stadium. You've missed the game.

WERTZ: Monday's eclipse will cut a narrow 70-mile-wide slice of darkness that arcs from Oregon through Nebraska, down to South Carolina. The rest of the country is outside the stadium. Rick Fienberg with the American Astronomical Society says those regions will experience something that comes across more like an overcast day.

RICK FIENBERG: It's still broad daylight, but the character of the light might change a bit.

WERTZ: Oklahoma isn't the only place throwing partial eclipse parties. They're happening everywhere from the public library in Huntsville, Utah, to the planetarium in Flint, Mich. Astronomers say anyone with the time and the means should make a trip to the path of totality on Monday. But if that's not possible, Feinberg says even a partial eclipse can still be fun.

FIENBERG: Now, when the sun's a very thin crescent, some interesting things happen to shadows.

WERTZ: The edges of those shadows will be much more defined. Don't look at the sun without the proper glasses or filter, but Feinberg says search the ground for little crescent shapes and see how the focused light from the tiny sliver of sun looks when it's cast through leaves on trees. And while astronomers might not be moved by anything less than totality, Katie Hawk in Oklahoma's Tallgrass has ordered extra eclipse glasses and expanded their watch party.

HAWK: As far as 90 percent goes, we're pretty excited.

WERTZ: They are totally pumped the partial eclipse is bringing a party to the middle of the Oklahoma prairie. For NPR News, I'm Joe Wertz in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.