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Lincoln stargazers finding fun in the lead-up to totality
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READY FOR THE BIG DAY

Lincoln stargazers finding fun in the lead-up to totality

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The DIY-ers who turn a tinkerer's eye toward the skies as members of the Prairie Astronomy Club are split on how they plan to experience Monday's eclipse.

On one hand, how do you pass up the chance to photograph one of nature's most elusive wonders?

But on the other hand, do you really want to experience a total solar eclipse — a once-in-a-lifetime event — from behind a viewfinder?

Brian Sivill, who along with Brett Boller has sunk thousands of dollars into building an imaging observatory, has been working hard ahead of Monday's event in order to follow through on advice from someone who has done it all before.

"A professional here in town shared this with me: Maybe it's not a great idea to photograph it because that's what the pros are doing, some of them insanely talented and well-tooled," Sivill said.

There's always a "but," however.

"Some of us are afflicted with the disease where we have to do our own imaging," Sivill added.

The affliction has led to years of preparation, everything from acquiring the right kind of solar filter material from an Australian source to cover lenses to programming cameras to capture the right moment without a button needing to be pushed.

Then there's the site prep. The Boller-Sivill Observatory at Branched Oak Lake falls outside the line of totality, so the duo will travel to Boller's family's farm in south-central Nebraska "to photograph it like mad."

They plan to fix a GoPro camera on their observation site to record the changes in the environment, while a half dozen or so other cameras will be trained skyward, connected to imaging software that automates the whole process.

About 24 hours before the moon passes in front of the sun, Sivill and Boller will conduct a complete test run of their equipment, so when the real thing happens, they can heed the advice of their professional colleague.

"There's a real risk to missing the experience in a relaxed and peaceful way," Sivill said. "Both Brett and I have apprised ourselves to sit down, take stock of the environment and enjoy it."

Another amateur astronomer, Mark Dahmke, who penned the retrospective "The Prairie Astronomy Club: Fifty Years of Amateur Astronomy," said the club chose not to hold a watch party in favor of allowing members to experience it in their own way.

"I've never seen a total eclipse — I've only seen partials," Dahmke said. "From what I've been told and from what I've read, it's a dramatically different experience."

From a tree-less prairie with horizon-to-horizon views near Cortland, Dahmke plans to set up some automated equipment of his own to capture the rapidly changing environment created by the eclipse.

"There's more than just seeing the eclipse coming across," he said. "There's the darkening of the sky, the sunset colors and hopefully seeing the shadow move."

In many ways, however, the lead-up has been just as enjoyable for Lincoln's amateur astronomers.

"We've avoided some of the hard work — we didn't predict the eclipse, the orbits or the times," Sivill said. "We dabble in the fun part, and we're not ashamed about it."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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