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Learning all about eclipses at the Williamsville planetarium

Williamsville is one of a few Western New York school districts with its own planetarium.
Credit: WGRZ-TV

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Williamsville is one of a few school districts in Western New York with its own planetarium, and as its director, Mark Percy has a unique job. 

"Usually it's groups of kids coming in on a school bus. They'll come piling in, and spend maybe an hour or an hour and a half with me about some topic that relates to astronomy," he told 2 On Your Side. 

The planetarium was built in 1969, during the heat of the space race. 

"Williamsville North was being built, and there was a federal grant program where you could get a planetarium added on to a school under construction," Percy said. "We've had this beautiful planetarium ever since." 

Mr. Percy sees hundreds of students from around the district each week. This week, he'd had something timely to talk with them about: the total lunar eclipse happening this Sunday night. 

"We do have a nice long totality. It's almost an hour and a half where the moon will be fully immersed in the earth's shadow, where it takes on a deep red color often called the blood moon," he explained. 

The partial eclipse will start around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, with the total eclipse happening about an hour later, and the whole show wrapping up by 2 a.m. Monday. 

"We just have to hope that there's clear skies and we don't get clouded out," Percy said.  

Mr. Percy is also hoping that this eclipse is a reminder to the entire community, about the big solar eclipse coming on April 8th, 2024. Buffalo will be on the path of totality, and one of the best places in the world to watch it. 

"The morning of April 8th, the sun will rise in the East, like it normally does, but instead of missing the sun like it usually does in a new moon, this time the moon will cover the entire yellow part of the sun, bringing out a nighttime darkness right in the middle of the afternoon," Percy said. 

"They're just absolutely the most spectacular thing you will ever see in the sky and people will travel to be along this narrow path of totality." 

It may seem far away, but Percy says we should be preparing now. Take it from someone who's traveled to the path of totality for two previous solar eclipses. Percy first went to Kentucky in 2017, then to Santiago, Chile in 2019. 

"My first eclipse, my family and I, we didn't really know when it was safe to take the glasses off during totality, and we missed a little bit of it," he said. "That's why I went on a second journey, and during that one, that experience from the first one helped me get more out of it the second time around." 

There are some things you can start doing now, such as finding a trusted place to get your eclipse glasses, and maybe even think - think about investing in a small telescope. 

"You will be the most popular person around on eclipse day if you know how to use a solar telescope," Percy promised.   

Still not sure where to start? The Williamsville planetarium is offering Solar Eclipse Deputy Training sessions starting later this month. 

For more information, visit the Williamsville Planetarium's website, and www.buffaloeclipse.org