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Environment & Science

Solar eclipse: Pro skywatcher describes what to expect in the Lehigh Valley

Gary A. Becker
Moravian University
Gary A. Becker, an adjunct professor of astronomy at Moravian University, says April 8's solar eclipse won't turn the sky above the Lehigh Valley dark, just wonky.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The longtime adjunct professor of astronomy at Moravian University was asked to describe what the sky will look like throughout the Lehigh Valley during the total solar eclipse on Monday afternoon.

Mind you, Gary A. Becker has had a love affair with the heavens since a meteor shower he observed both scared the pants off him and piqued his interest on his way to a Cub Scouts meeting when he was eight years old.

Sixty-five years ago.

From that moment, the kid was hooked on the sky.

An Allentown native, Becker hopscotched from Allen High School to Kutztown to West Chester. His interest in astronomy insatiable. Multiple degrees later, he began working in the Allentown School District in 1972, becoming its assistant planetarium director for 38 years.

Since 2009, he has been teaching Moravian students about the world above.

"It'll look wonky."
Gary A. Becker, Moravian University astronomy professor.

So who better to consult than this expert about what the sky will look like when the Lehigh Valley experiences 92% of the eclipse.

A million dollar descriptive was anticipated.

Instead, Becker covered it with a pocket change word.

“It’ll look wonky,” he said during a phone conversation this week. “The sky won’t look dark like night. Shadows won’t be as distinct.

“If a person is driving around with no knowledge of the eclipse, they probably wouldn’t know anything was really happening.

“As I said, it’ll look wonky.”

Monday’s eclipse will be the first visible in the Lehigh Valley since Aug. 21, 2017, when 75% of the sun was covered by the moon.

While Monday’s event will last from 2:08 p.m. until 4:35 p.m., the maximum viewing time of the eclipse will be around 3:24 p.m., when about 92% of the sun will be obscured by the moon.

In order to appreciate the change in the sky, Becker said, local residents would have to look at the eclipse at the start, then not again until 3:24 p.m.

“That’s the way to really notice the difference in what’s happening,” he said.

On average, 2.38 solar eclipses of various degrees occur annually. More than 72 percent of all years have just two, and less than 1% have five, according to astronomy.com.

Several eclipse viewing parties are being held throughout the Lehigh Valley, including at Town Square at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley from 3 to 4 p.m. The event, presented by Lehigh Valley Health Network, will provide eclipse viewing glasses and solar eclipse-themed treats, both while supplies last.

“I also have students setting up two stations at Moravian to view the eclipse,” Becker said.

As for Becker, he and three friends will hit the road to chase down the ideal location out of state to view the eclipse.

“I might be heading to upstate Vermont or New Hampshire if that’s where it appears the sweet spot will be,” he said. “Or Texas, if that’s the sweet spot. The weather changes every day. Initially, we thought Ohio would be the spot; now its forecast for lots of cloud cover.

“I won’t know where we're going until I get in the car.”

Traveling to view such celestial occurrences is nothing new to Becker. He’s traveled as far away as Hawaii and the coast of Africa to view two of his nine past eclipses.

Which makes Becker an eclipse chaser.

Or, as the astronomer defined himself — an umbraphile.

Because all these years later, the former Cub Scout is hooked on the sky.