EDWARDSVILLE - Crowds are gathering at SIUE this afternoon for a public viewing of the solar eclipse.

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Thomas Foster, Professor of Physics at SIUE, said we're getting a nearly total eclipse with 99.5 percent of the light from the sun being blocked by the moon.

"It's a remarkably rare event," Foster said. "While the eclipses themselves happen roughly every 18 months you've got to be in the right place and the planet has to be aligned exactly right and everything else has to be just perfect for us to get an eclipse."

Foster said it's part of SIUE's mission to serve the community so the viewing party is fully equipped to help educate and inform the public about today's eclipse.

"We've got three 80-inch TVs going on, one eight inch telescope hooked up to a camera that's feeding to those screens," Foster said. "We're going to have a little education tent set up as well, so if people want an explanation, a little more depth, and the visuals of everything they can go there."

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Some of the information available will be about the geometry and the scale of the event.

Foster said the best time to catch the eclipse this afternoon will be about 1:18 p.m. and that everyone is in for an excellent show from mother nature.

Safety is a huge concern for the eclipse viewing. Foster said the potential harm that can be done to viewers without protective glasses is tremendous.

"It will never be safe for us to remove our solar glasses," he said. "Our eyes are used to this brightness of the sun that we get during the regular part of the day. So it hurts to look at but as the moon gets between the sun and the earth and cast a shadow it will be dimmer. But it's still putting out some ultraviolet light. That light will do the same thing it does to your skin. You'll tan, then burn, then third-degree burns and then scars. And if your retina gets scared, you've got problems for life."

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