For the first time in almost 40 years, a solar eclipse occurring Monday, Aug. 21 will be visible coast to coast in the continental United States. Father Peter Giovanoni, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Ridge, Maryland, who earned a doctorate in astrophysics before entering the seminary, is well prepared to witness from his Southern Maryland parish the special celestial event that happens when the earth crosses with the shadow of the moon.

From South Carolina to Oregon, there will be a total solar eclipse, but in the areas surrounding the Archdiocese of Washington, it will be a partial solar eclipse. Even so, the priest strongly urges the proper safety eyewear for local folks who wish to catch a glimpse. Some local retailers are selling glasses equipped with special-purpose solar filters.

“Don’t look at it without the strongest protection for your eyes,” he said. “It will be a partial here, but it’s still visible and dangerous (to the eyes).”  Father Giovanoni said partial eclipses can actually be more hazardous to the naked eye and he also advises against looking at the partial eclipse with cameras, binoculars or even telescopes without a solar filter.

On Monday, not only will students be excited to be returning to St. Michael School for their first day day of classes, but Father Giovanoni said he plans to give out several dozen pairs of the eclipse viewing glasses he ordered online in June so the community is able to observe the eclipse together. “It’s a half day of school, so they can stay after or come back,” the priest said.

The partial eclipse in this area will last two hours and 44 minutes, beginning at 1:17 p.m. and ending at 4:01 p.m., with the maximum eclipse (when the moon is closest to the center of the sun) visible at 2:42 p.m. The priest suggests the NASA website as an excellent resource for more information on the 2017 solar eclipse:

Father Giovanoni, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2001, said he has been drawn to astronomy and physics since his childhood. He hopes to use the eclipse as a teaching moment for the St. Michael School students, explaining the day’s cosmic event to them as it unfolds and hopefully further opening their (well-covered) eyes to the wonders of God’s creation.