The line in front of Bob Alborzian’s homemade dobsonian telescope gets pretty long. Young and old step up to squint in front of the eye piece of the apparatus pointing directly at the sun.
It’s Monday afternoon and the Sylmar library is teeming with parents and children going in or coming out with books or to return them. That’s where Alborzian has placed his telescope, which he made himself back in 1970 and that is especially equipped for looking at the Solar System’s star, which looks like a giant orb with an orange glow.
The telescope has a welder’s glass so it’s perfect for looking at the sun.
That’s good because he’s going to need it.
An astronomy lecturer, Alborzian and many other lovers of celestial happenings are gearing up for next Monday August 21. It’s the Superbowl of astronomy: a total solar eclipse, something that hasn’t happened in the continental U.S. for 99 years.
While the eclipse will only be partial in Los Angeles (about 60% at best), the Burbank resident is looking forward to it.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to look at a beauty like that,” says Alborzian, head of the Burbank chapter of Sidewalk Astronomers.
He’s already seen four other solar eclipses: one total and 3 partial, but it never gets old for him.
“It’s a beauty of nature. It doesn’t happen every day. It’s a natural treat”, he gushes.
His love for astronomy began when he was a young child in 1955.
“My father showed me the moon through a pair of cheap binoculars. I was hooked,” he recalled.
On Monday, Aug. 21, will mark the first coast-to-coast total eclipse in the United States in 99 years, and the first total eclipse that can be seen only from American soil in the history of the United States, prompting some to call the event “The Great American Eclipse.”
The viewing event is from 9:05 a.m. to 11:44 a.m. The maximum point when the moon covers the sun will last about two minutes. Don’t look up at the sky without special glasses or you’ll burn your eyes (Check the attached box)
“The solar eclipse provides an opportunity for the public to experience a rare planetary phenomenon,” says Michael Kezirian, associate professor of astronautics at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
In ancient times, native people in the American continent shouted to the heavens, promising to work hard and mend their ways. Some worked their gardens and other projects especially hard during the eclipse to prove it.
Even in modern times, people become scared and sometimes act irrationally during a solar eclipse. In Cambodia, in 1995, soldiers shot into the air to scare a mythic dragon from the sky. It was reported that the only scattered casualties were from bullets.
In Baja, California, in 1991, astronomers were surprised by the weeping and wailing of hotel staff, who were terrified by the onset of the darkness.
Dana Eklund, member of Sidewalk Astronomers and who works at the Sylmar Library, doesn’t believe any of those superstitions.
He just loves planets and eclipses, something instilled in him by his father, an avid astronomer.
“My dad bought me a telescope and looking at Jupiter, Saturn, I just felt like I was in outer space,” Eklund says.
In 1979, his dad took him to Washington state to view a total eclipse.
“It’s a spiritual experience. Your whole world changes in an instant. It gives you goosebumps,” says Eklund of eclipses.
Given that the solar eclipse will only be partial here in Los Angeles, it means it won’t get totally dark. Perhaps something like dusk or early evening.
But that doesn’t diminish the wonder for astronomy buffs or the rest of interested parties.
Cory Lagusker who offers Reptacular Animal shows educating kids about reptiles was one of those who took a look through the telescopes set up by Sidewalk Astronomers outside the Sylmar Library.
He’s looking forward to the eclipse.
“I love science and this is once every 99 years. I won’t be able to see it again,” he says.
“Eclipses let us see our place in the universe. It gets out eyes out of something else,” Eklund says before he adds that he expects all the publicity around the eclipse will get children and everybody else interested in science.
“It inspires people to learn more about the universe,” he adds.
And in the end, as a librarian and amateur astronomy, that’s the best part.
Sidewalk Astronomers will have telescopes available for safe viewing of the solar eclipse outside the Sylmar Library on Monday August 21 from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Sylmar library is located at 13059 Glenoaks Boulevard in Sylmar.