WAYNE, Neb. | Wayne State College's fall semester begins Aug. 21, but Todd Young plans to be nowhere near a campus classroom.

With the path of a total solar eclipse passing through central and southeast Nebraska not too far away, the physics and astronomy professor plans to spend the day observing rather than teaching.

"I've already told my president I'm taking the day off," Young said.

Instead, he'll be accompanying more than 200 elementary students from Wayne to Central City, Nebraska, which falls in the path of totality, where the sun will be totally blocked out by the moon for two minutes.

"I've never experienced (a total solar eclipse). I can only imagine that it's going to be breathtaking. It will be an experience for me and these kids that we'll remember for a lifetime," said Young, also the director of Wayne State's Fred G. Dale Planetarium.

Not since 1979 has a total solar eclipse -- when the sun, moon and Earth are in direct alignment -- been visible in the United States. The path of the eclipse passes across the country from Oregon to South Carolina, including a swath stretching from Nebraska's western border to the eastern edge of the state. The total eclipse will be visible in Lincoln but not Omaha.

"For this path of totality to cut right through the U.S., that is rare," Young said. "For our region, it won't be this close for a long time." Not for 365 years, to be exact, he said.

Siouxlanders won't be able to see the full eclipse, but the sun will be about 95 percent blocked, ensuring that the skies will become dark, making it seem like dusk at the peak of the eclipse at about 1 p.m. Those viewing the eclipse in this area will see the sun appear as a thin crescent.

"It's probably the most dramatic event in the skies that can be seen," Joel Sander, an assistant professor in the University of South Dakota's Department of Physics, said of the solar eclipse.

It's one of the few natural events that can be found referred to in ancient texts dating back 4,000 years, he said. An eclipse in ancient civilizations was viewed as a bad omen, perhaps a sign that the gods were angry or were going away. Scientific research through the centuries removed that mystery, but the darkened skies during the middle of the day still can cast an eerie scene.

"This is something that does connect us back to earlier generations," Sander said.

Rather than retreat in fear, educators across the region are making arrangements to give as many people as possible a chance to view the eclipse.

Sander said he'd love to go see the totality in Nebraska, but he'll be teaching an astronomy class at USD at noon. He'll dismiss the students early to head out to the lawn outside the Ackley-Lawrence Science Center so they can see the partial eclipse. He'll have plenty of eclipse glasses available so students passing by can take a look, too.

The Sanford Museum and Planetarium in Cherokee, Iowa, also is inviting anyone to stop by to have a look at the partial eclipse through special glasses and a projection box that will be set up outside.

"If they want to come by and look at it, they can," director Linda Burkhart said. "People are very excited about this eclipse. It's a very exciting natural event."

Just don't expect to see Burkhart there. She and a few other museum staff members are heading to Nebraska to see the total eclipse.

"I wouldn't miss totality this close," she said.

The next total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States won't occur until 2024, and the path will travel from Texas to the northeast, far from Siouxland.


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