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Planetarium director shares her take on the eclipse
University of North Georgia plans event Aug. 20
Lesley Simanton-Coogan
Lesley Simanton-Coogan, director of the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium at the University of North Georgia, will present during an educational event Sunday at the Dahlonega campus. - photo by David Barnes

A total solar eclipse is a heavenly moment in Lesley Simanton-Coogan’s career.

More than just having a lifelong passion about astronomy, Simanton-Coogan leads the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega and lectures on the topic.

“When I was a kid, I saw a partial eclipse, so I’m really excited,” she said. “I hope the clouds go away. Even if they predict clouds, I’m still going to go out to try to look at it.”

The Michigan native traces her love for astronomy to middle school, when a teacher showed a movie about the moons of planets outside the solar system. Fueling her interest on the celestial was a high school astronomy club.

Simanton-Coogan, 30, went to Albion College in Michigan to pursue a degree in physics, but her interest was clearly in the stars.

As astronomy club president, “we held stargazing events where we show people constellations,” she said.

She went on to the University of Toledo in Ohio to pursue her doctorate in physics. While her graduate work focused on research, she looked for teaching jobs — especially ones focusing on public outreach — upon graduation in 2015.

“They’re hard to find. I found only a couple across the country, and this (UNG job) was one of them, so I jumped on it right away, Simanton-Coogan said.

She began the job last August, and it’s been a good ride so far.

“A lot of school groups come through (the planetarium), but adults also enjoy it, ” she said.

Simanton-Coogan has been particularly busy lately, talking to groups about Monday’s solar eclipse.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and sun, casts its shadow on the earth and blocks the view of the sun.

The 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse is set for 1-5 p.m. Sunday at UNG’s Health and Natural Sciences Building off Sunset Drive and Galaxy Circle. The free event, which doesn’t require registration, will feature telescope solar viewing, planetarium shows, an activity room and special talks and panel sessions. Simanton-Coogan will speak on “How do we get an eclipse?” and the 1919 eclipse.

2017 Great American Solar Eclipse 

What: Telescope solar viewing, activity room, Q-and-A panels with professors

When: 1-5 p.m. Sunday 

Where: University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus, Health and Natural Sciences Building off Sunset Drive and Galaxy Circle

How much: Free 

There will also be specialized glasses given to those attending.

“The eclipse, that moment of totality, if people want to catch that, it’s very brief, so we wanted people to be prepared for it,” she said.

Monday’s eclipse is expected to be visible in Northeast Georgia about 1 p.m. with the best view coming in about a two-minute window at 2:30 p.m., Simanton-Coogan said.

A complete, 100 percent total solar eclipse will be seen in places like Helen, Blairsville, Clayton and the Greenville, S.C., area.

Simanton-Coogan is going to Toccoa to watch the eclipse with her husband.

“Several months ago, I managed to get a hotel room,” she said, with a laugh. “We don’t have a plan of exactly where we’re going to go. I was just going to wander around downtown or near (Toccoa Falls).”

She picked the location because she’s also interested in the waterfall, itself a star attraction in Toccoa.

“I’ll have something to go look at if it’s totally cloudy,” Simanton-Coogan said.