Meet UH's Shadia Habbal. She's a solar eclipse chaser (and she's not alone)

Updated: Aug. 2, 2017 at 6:06 PM HST
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(Miloslav Druckmüller)
(Miloslav Druckmüller)
(Miloslav Druckmüller)
(Miloslav Druckmüller)

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since 1995, University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal has led 14 expeditions all over the world to see the moon block out the sun and the land go dark. She is a solar eclipse expert.

"I started because I was interested in getting information about the solar corona nobody else had," she said.

The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 can be seen across the mainland United States. It's the first in 100 years.

Habbal picked five spots stretched from Oregon to Nebraska for 30 international astronomers to study the event. They are counting on her accuracy.

"It is exciting but it's really nerve-wracking. You can't miss," she said. "You only have two minutes. You have to be absolutely ready."

An expedition takes years of planning. Habbal scouts locations, secures funding, and makes travel arrangements for astronomers and equipment. She has led astronomer groups to the Arctic Circle, Libya, Indonesia, Kenya and Syria.

Unlike this trip, the treks often go to remote spots.

"Usually we're interrupted by oceans. we have small islands and it's not readily accessible," Habbal said.

She once chartered an airplane so astronomers could study an eclipse from above the clouds.

This month's eclipse can be seen here in Hawaii at sunrise, but only a third of the sun's face will be blocked by the moon.

"It's really important if you make an effort to see this to have a safe viewing device, like the viewing filters we have at the museum, and to find the flattest possible Eastern horizon. Over the sea would be your ideal location," said Mike Shanahan, planetarium director at Bishop Museum.

The last total solar eclipse over Hawaii was in 1991. The next won't be for 89 years.

Of all her expeditions Habbal says only about half had excellent viewing conditions, but all yielded scientific information.

"You get observations and data. Then you say, we found this or that. Next time we can improve our equipment or add to it," she said.

After this month's solar eclipse, Habbal will focus on the next total eclipse in 2019. She is already scouting locations in Chile.

Tips for safely viewing the eclipse in Hawaii:

  • Don't look at the sun with the naked eye
  • Use a viewing filter
  • Find a spot with few clouds
  • Choose the flattest possible view of the Eastern horizon

Habbal's group is called Solar Wind Sherpas. To follow expedition, click here.

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