Shadow of the moon

LYNDEBOROUGH – It’s hard to think of a more romantic meeting story: Regina Conrad and Paul Hider first met on an eclipse-watching cruise in the South Pacific in 2005.

She was living in New York. He lived in New Hampshire. Their wedding favors were flat plastic eye protectors for viewing the sun during an eclipse.

Now they live in Lyndeborough, and Conrad is the event organizer for the J.A. Tarbell Library.

Their focus is on Aug. 21. They and fellow skywatchers will be treated, if the weather cooperates, to a rare sight, a total eclipse of the sun that will follow an east-southeast path through the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

And rare it is.

The last coast-to-coast eclipse, crossing the United States from Washington state to Florida, was in 1918.

The August eclipse will be the couple’s seventh, Conrad told a small group during an evening presentation at the library.

Visitors from all over the world are expected to converge on the U.S. for this celestial phenomenon that will last a little more than an hour and a half.

The “path of totality” will begin on an Oregon beach at about 10:15 a.m. Conrad and Hider will be in South Carolina, the final state where the eclipse can be seen.

In Lyndeborough, far from the central path, the moon’s shadow will cover about 60 percent of the sun, starting at 1:15 p.m., with the maximum shadow around 2:40.

Conrad offered some basic information on astronomy, the cause of eclipses, and the geometry of the sun, the Earth and the moon. She talked about viewing preparations and finding a spot to watch, and described what it’s like as gradual twilight falls.

“Totality is not noticeable until the shadow covers about 90 percent of the sun,” she said. At 99 percent, it resembles twilight. “In totality, you are in darkness, with twilight all around you.”

But the first thing she did at her Jan. 16 talk was urge caution, and she gave out protective plastic eye coverings.

“Never, ever, look” at an eclipse without eye protection, she said, and she suggested using cardboard to make an eclipse viewing box.

Contrad, who worked at semiconductor processing and product development in New York, and then became a contractor at the IBM Watson Lab in Yorktown and spent a year working on the NASA NuSTAR telescope for Columbia University, said he has always been interested in astronomy. About a dozen years ago, after her son said he wanted to be an astrophysicist, Conrad took to the internet and became intrigued by eclipses. Shortly after seeing her first one, she started working part time at the Andrus Planetarium in Yonkers, giving shows and maintaining equipment.

So far, she and Hider have seen eclipses in Tahiti, Egypt, Siberia, Argentina, Kenya and Indonesia.

People sometimes ask them, When you’ve seen one, why see more, she said. But, she asked, would anyone say that about sunsets?

For those who miss the “Great American Eclipse” in August, there will be another total eclipse on July 2, 2019, that will be seen in small parts of Chile and Argentina. Then on April 8, 2024, beginning in Mexico and Texas, one will follow a diagonal swath northeast into the Canadian Maritime provinces.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or