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Schools prepare for solar eclipse

An Aug. 21 solar eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

On that day, the moon will completely cover the sun in an area 70 miles wide – with a trajectory across the country that in Nebraska will encompass towns from Scottsbluff to Falls City.

And viewing it through the eyes of faith will make it more special still, said several Catholic school officials, including Marlan Burki, principal of All Saints School in Omaha, who is inviting hundreds of students from several Omaha-area schools for a number of solar science experiments and other fun on his farm near Tecumseh, Neb., in the path of the total eclipse.

"It comes down to God’s creation," Burki said. And God’s sense of humor, he said, creating a moon that appears in the sky to be the same size as the sun, and lining them up at various times in solar and lunar eclipses for all to see.

It’s a unique mix of mystery and science, "one of God’s miracles," said Sid Eckerman, a science teacher at Christ the King School in Omaha, who is taking about 120 sixth- through eighth-graders to Falls City, another spot in the path of totality.

People in every part of the state will see at least a 90 percent solar eclipse, and special glasses will be needed from those vantage points to safely view the sun throughout the event – while even then periodically turning away to give the eyes a break. In other cities and towns, such as Tecumseh and Falls City, totality will last about two minutes – and only during the total eclipse can people look at the sun without the glasses.

If special glasses are not worn while looking directly at the sun during any phase of a partial solar eclipse, the sun’s rays can quickly and without any pain severely damage the eyes, Burki and Eckerman said.

"All students must be taught that the only time they can look into the sun without the solar eclipse glasses is during the two-minute window of totality," Burki said in a note sent to parents and others going to the farm with him. "If they look at it any other time without the solar glasses they can go blind! This must be taught to everyone attending!"

Safety is the top concern, Burki said. Prayers also are being said for a sunny day, although the unique darkness even under cloud cover will be quite an experience, he said.

A solar eclipse occurs somewhere in the world every 18 months or so. The last two total solar eclipses visible from somewhere in Nebraska were in 1954 and 1869. The next two will be 2106 and 2178.