How far will someone travel for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
When it comes to a total solar eclipse, the answer is pretty far.
The first total eclipse over the mainland United States since 1979 (and the first to be visible coast-to-coast since 1918) has many astronomers and fanatics in South Jersey getting ready to hit the road to witness the event in its totality.
The sun, moon and Earth will line up perfectly in the cosmos Aug. 21, turning the daytime sky dark for a few wondrous minutes. The total eclipse’s path crosses the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina.
There are an estimated 200 million people living within a day’s drive of the path. Paul Ostwald is one of them.
Ostwald, president of the South Jersey Astronomy Club, said he will be traveling Friday to Tennessee, where he will set up camp for the eclipse.
Ostwald said New Jersey residents will see only a partial eclipse — about 75 percent — and that the sky won’t be as dark as it will be in the 14 states within the eclipse’s direct path.
He and his family are making a week’s vacation out of the trip, but Ostwald knows that the highlight will be next Monday’s eclipse.
“It’s like a bucket list,” he said. “You ought to see one in your lifetime.”
Ostwald gets excited describing what he has read about the process of a total solar eclipse: The moon covers the sun so quickly that the day appears to turn almost completely to night within a minute. The moon moves at more than 1,000 mph and temperatures drop 15 to 20 degrees, according to Ostwald. He will have a telescope and camera with him to capture the event.
“I’ve seen partial (eclipses), but never a total. It’s something you only read about,” Ostwald said.
Rich Dudek, of Asbury Park, comes down to South Jersey to take pictures of the moon. He will be traveling to the northern bank of the Missouri River in Columbia, Missouri, to capture a 360-degree pan of the eclipse.
Dudek will be shooting with multiple cameras, one on a 600mm telescope, another with a 200mm lens mounted on an equatorial head. He’ll also have a high-definition camcorder with a GoPro mounted on a slow-panning head for the 360 view. He’ll hook everything up to two golf-cart batteries to keep them running.
At 62, Dudek knows it’s now or never.
“I’m looking at pictures you see on the internet or in books. I just think it will be great with the darkness overcoming and the crickets, birds and clouds changing,” Dudek said.
Harold Williams may have one of the best views, as he will be staying on the dead-center line of the eclipse in Nebraska. He has been planning the trip for more than a year.
Williams, of Galloway Township, plans to set up two video cameras — one toward the shadow and one pointing away. He said he won’t be taking photos, as he wants to experience the eclipse and not worry about the focus of a camera.
“I can see it in my head and I know what to expect, but it’s like listening to a band play live as opposed to on TV: Yeah, it’s the same thing but it’s not,” Williams said.