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Once-in-lifetime: Lakes Region prepares for solar eclipse

Daniel Sarch

Brad Moser, assistant professor of astronomy and physics at Plymouth State University, has never seen an eclipse, but watched people get emotional while viewing the moon completely covered the sun in videos of the 2017 solar eclipse.

“They’re capturing people crying and saying, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like this.’” Moser said. “People describe afterwards that it’s one of the top events in their life. It’s out there with when their first child was born.”

The solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many. The next total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States will be in 2044 in Montana and North Dakota. The next full eclipse visible from New Hampshire will happen over a half century later, in 2079. Moser has been going around the state educating people ahead of Monday’s historic event.

“We’re not going to see another total eclipse here for 55 years and most people, unless they’re eclipse chasers, aren’t going to be traveling to other parts of the world to go see an eclipse,” Moser said. “This is really a once-, or if you’re lucky, twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a total eclipse without having to travel around the world.”

Moser emphasized the totality is a significantly different experience than a partial eclipse. During a total eclipse, for just a few minutes, the world goes dark, giving people a dusk or dawn, almost nighttime experience mid-day. In Laconia, the moon will cover 97% of the sun, just shy of totality. Moser said that small percentage is still many full moons brighter than the full event.

“I just had someone describe it once as, ‘Watching the eclipse at 99% is like getting a kiss and watching the eclipse at 100% is like getting married,’” he said.

Despite the difference between the partial eclipse and totality, Moser said if you can’t travel or do not want to make that effort, the partial eclipse is still worth seeing.

“Some people will have made statements like, ‘If you don’t see totality, you haven’t seen it at all.’ And I don’t believe that’s true either,” he said. “The fact is, you’re going to be looking up at the sun, get a pair of solar eclipse glasses, and you’re going to see the sun almost completely covered. Again, it’s just completely outside of our normal experience.”

The only place in the Granite State to see the solar eclipse in totality is in Coos County: Lancaster is right on the edge of the path of totality. Notable cities nearby the path of totality are Burlington, Vermont, Montreal, Canada, and most of central and northern Maine.

While New Hampshire is only projected to host around 2,000 travelers, according to the Great American Eclipse website, compared to Vermont’s 36,000 to 145,000, traffic is expected to be congested. For those looking to travel to see the eclipse in totality, the state has issued a travel advisory for Monday, encouraging travelers to stay on state highways. Some secondary highways and local roads, they said, are not designed to handle large volumes of traffic, and recent weather could lead to frost heaves and soft shoulders.

For tips on planning a trip to see the total eclipse, visit

Those who decide to stay home in the Lakes Region can view the eclipse from anywhere they can see the sun. Various local businesses will be hosting viewing events and check with your local libraries to see if they are having a viewing event as well. Most libraries are also providing solar eclipse glasses for free.

Laconia Public Library Teen Librarian Brianna Hemmah said she got the eclipse glasses with a grant from the STAR Library Education Network and has planned an Eclipse Watch event on Monday in the library garden at 2 p.m. Starting Saturday, glasses are available for anyone to pick up. Hemmah said lots of people have already come to get their pair.

“Some people have come in and incidentally gotten glasses, but there are people who are coming in specifically to get glasses,” Hemmah said.

She’s also glad some people coming in for glasses who have never been in the library before also got a library card.

Hemmah invites city residents to join the library’s event on Monday.

“Some people want to stay home alone and just peek outside, but if you want to come down and take part with people you can come here for free,” she said.

“Any chance where you can interact with the community, I think is great. I tend to feel a little isolated these days after everything we’ve been through and it’s nice to have events like this where people can come together and just enjoy something that’s pretty neat.”

Laconia schools will have early release on Monday for the safety of students and staff. Superintendent Steve Tucker also said the early release is to allow students and staff to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Police Chief Matt Canfield cautioned people to pay extra attention when out and about during the eclipse, and to not make unnecessary trips during darkness of the eclipse.

“We would certainly caution people to take it easy when they’re driving, to slow down a little bit and certainly look for pedestrians and other people that might be out there,” Canfield said. “It’s harder to see and it’s in the middle of the busy afternoon, so we encourage people to take it easy and keep an extra eye out.”

The eclipse won’t only be observed recreationally. PSU Meteorology Associate Professor Eric Kelsey, along with Art Professor Kimberly Ritchie, have created two teams of students who will work with colleges and universities as part of NASA’s nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project. Weather balloons will be released into the atmosphere, carrying a radiosonde; a device that transmits measurements by radio and tracks temperature, air pressure, relative humidity and wind characteristics. The aim is to study atmospheric changes during the eclipse for a total of 30 hours in 30-minute increments; 24 hours before totality, and 6 hours after.

“No one in the world has had such an expansive observation campaign during an eclipse. This is the biggest by far,” Kelsey said. “The scale of it will will probably provide us with more detailed insight into how eclipses impact the lower part of the atmosphere and under very different environmental conditions.”

The two teams will be in Pittsburg, the northernmost town in New Hampshire. A total of 17 students are participating, mostly studying meteorology and art, but also psychology, political science and climate studies. All students are required to take a three-credit course about the eclipse, then take a one-credit course this semester, as well as have taken a one-credit course last semester to be a part of the campaign. Kelsey emphasized the importance of doing this scientific experiment with students in different programs, particularly art.

“By involving other majors, and other disciplines, we brought in the audience that we reach,” Kelsey said. “There are a lot of people who are quantitative like myself, and like to see data and figures and whatnot. And then there are people who are more qualitative or conceptual and can connect with our work better as a way to receive information.”

The art students will be producing work inspired by the eclipse which will be on display at the Museum of the White Mountains at PSU this fall, accompanied by a speaker series.

With the eclipse visible from anywhere outside, the viewing options are limitless. Moser thinks this is an incredible way for people to come together.

“This is an event that really stretches across all demographics, all cultures,” he said. “It’s something that has been experienced by many people throughout time and it’s one of those moments where everybody gets to just kind of stop and look up at the sky during the day and see something that they’re just never going to see again.”