Solar Eclipse Take-away

Professor Patterson and I were interviewed this afternoon about the solar eclipse. We got the call and an hour later, we were doing the interview. We were coached a bit, but there was really no time to prepare my thoughts. My part went okay until I was asked about what I wanted my students to take away from the experience. I was immediately overwhelmed because there were so many things that could be said. I was trying to focus on what would be relevant to students on campus during the eclipse but was uncertain where to start and what to leave out. Nerves were also kicking into high gear. I knew I was representing the college and didn’t want to look like an idiot. In short, I froze! (Fortunately, we weren’t live.) I was asked if I wanted to come back to the question after Professor Patterson did his part, and I said I would. However, he did such a good job, I decided it wasn’t necessary. At this time, however, I would like to comment on a takeaway for students.

Take in the experience in as many ways as you can! The sky will look different. If you are in the path of totality, you will see stars and planets. You will see Mercury in a part of the sky where you will never ever normally see it. (You can take our astronomy classes to find out why.) On the ground, just before totality, you will see sharp shadows and even see what are called shadow bands, looking like the shadow of a stream of vapor moving across light surfaces. Features in the upper and lower solar atmosphere suddenly become visible.

Don’t just see it, feel it! Some claim that witnessing a total solar eclipse changed their lives. Notice the emotions that such a spectacle and change in your surroundings invokes. What do you hear? What animals can you now hear and what animals can you no longer hear? Imagine the fear that people may have experienced before anyone understood what solar eclipses were about.

After that, take a moment to reflect on how, through science, we have come to understand what eclipses are and how to predict them. Science, and the quest to understand awesome spectacles of nature, is a human activity. As such, they can involve a variety of emotions. Get excited about science! We do!

(As always, be safe! Unless the Sun is completely covered by the Moon, you need to wear solar glasses!)