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Challenger Learning Center hosts solar eclipse happening

Hunter Morrison

Sitting cross-legged inside what feels like a hot air balloon, people young and old learn about constellations and stars visible from the Kenai Peninsula.

The inflatable planetarium viewing is just one of many opportunities the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska provided during this week’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” event. There are also hands-on experimentation stations about the solar eclipse, our solar system, the sun and the moon.

“Locally, it was to give people a chance to experience the eclipse in some way,” said Rebecca Absher, director of educational operations at the center. “We can’t see it in person, so we have to be able to see it through technology.”

Ursula Graham is here with her son Marshall, a space fanatic.

“Anything to get the kids hands-on interested in something, my son is so interested in space, so having an event like this for him to come and explore different stations is really awesome,” Graham said.

One of Marshall’s favorite things about the event was spending time in the planetarium and learning about different constellations in the night sky.

“I’ve heard that in Greek mythology, Orion has a shield, but in Roman mythology, he’s holding a bow and arrow,” Marshall said.

Marshall says he’s learned a lot at the event — and says he missed school to attend, and to watch live coverage of the eclipse.

“I think it’s really cool," he said. "I saw the TV, and I saw that it was showing the solar eclipse in different places since we can’t see it in Alaska.”

A hands-on experimentation station during Monday's solar eclipse event
Hunter Morrison
A hands-on experimentation station during Monday's solar eclipse event

Delissa Owens is another Soldotna mom. She found out about the event while picking up her children from school.

“Being able to know about this universe we live in, even if we can’t experience it for ourselves, to get some kind of hands-on learning, some kind of hands-on ability to experience it in some way is really special for our kids,” Owens said.

Owens says events like these are crucial for rural communities on the Kenai Peninsula. She likes that they provide moments of learning outside the classroom.

“We hope that they see us as a learning opportunity to see a phenomenon that’s happening all over the world that we can’t actually see,” said Absher. “We can help them see it here. We also want to showcase what we do; we have technology, we have teaching opportunities for children and adults. It’s a non-graded opportunity for them to learn.”

Although the 2024 solar eclipse was not visible in Alaska, Absher says the “Devil Comet” can be seen with binoculars through the middle of the month. The next solar eclipse will be visible in Alaska in 2033.

For more information about the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, visit its website.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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