Clemson scientists are already setting the stage for August’s total solar eclipse
CLEMSON, South Carolina — The total solar eclipse that will streak across the United States from coast to coast on Aug. 21 will pass directly over Clemson University.
A total solar eclipse is most often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, except for those wealthy enough to travel to the relatively small and rare places around the world where these eclipses occasionally occur. The last coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the U.S. was recorded in 1918.
Though the entire continental U.S. will be able to witness portions of the eclipse, the total eclipse will only be visible on a narrow track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. Clemson is located almost dead-center within this slender band. The eclipse will begin its pass over the Upstate at about 1:07 p.m. EDT and finish around 4:02 p.m. But the totality of the eclipse — the part that viewers will find the most fascinating — will begin around 2:37 p.m. and last less than three minutes.
Clemson University already is making plans to host its own eclipse viewing event that will include in-person appearances by a slew of College of Science experts. Anyone interested in attending the viewing party will be able to learn more details starting April 3 when clemson.edu/eclipse debuts. It will include a schedule of events, numerous stories and updates, and instructions about how to safely view the eclipse by wearing solar glasses.
“The big event is still six months away, but I hope that everyone who lives in the Upstate and beyond is getting more excited about being able to see a total solar eclipse pass over our own back yards. It’s going to be a truly magnificent experience,” Porter said. “Few places in the nation grasp the significance of this better than Clemson University, whose team of scientists and staff are piecing together plans to have a large celebration where we can all gather on campus and experience the eclipse together. Leading up to the eclipse, you can schedule a show in Clemson University’s digital planetarium. Also, physics and astronomy graduate students will be hosting solar viewing pop-up events on campus and at local libraries, which will have demonstrations available for hands-on play to demonstrate how eclipses occur.”
Clemson’s first 2017 eclipse event was Feb. 23 when Laura Peticolas, a space physicist and senior fellow in the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, came to Clemson to introduce a first-of-its-kind citizen-science project titled “Eclipse Megamovie 2017.” The primary goal of this project is to produce a “high-definition, time-expanded video” of the eclipse as it passes from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts. The video will help scientists around the world study the eclipse in intimate and unprecedented detail.
“We will be recruiting a team of citizen scientists from across the country to contribute photos from various points along the eclipse path,” Peticolas said. “Their efforts will provide scientists with continuous datasets that will far exceed what any one person could capture from a single location. From these images, we plan to make a movie that will be about two hours long.”
At Clemson, the eclipse totality – when the entire sun, except for its corona, is hidden by the moon – will last only 2 minutes and 37 seconds. During this extraordinary interlude, the afternoon will darken like a twilight sky and stars will become visible in the middle of the day. Nocturnal animals, confused by the mysterious gloom, will make surprise appearances, and flowers that bloom during the day will close.
Peticolas said that observers who have witnessed total solar eclipses have described them as emotionally powerful and even life-altering. “It shows just how fragile we are. If the sun were to disappear forever, all life on Earth would cease to exist. The good news is, the sun won’t go away forever – just for a short and enchanting moment.”
There are many resources available to those who are interested in learning more about eclipses. Here are some that Peticolas recommended during her talk:
- NASA Eclipse 2017
- Why Do Eclipses Happen?
- Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)
- NASA’s GSFC Eclipse Map
- Eclipse 2017
- An Observer’s Guide to Viewing the Eclipse
“We are looking forward to an event that is going to be stunning and beautiful to the general public, but also exciting to scientists, who will be studying the mysteries of the sun’s corona and also the effects of gravity on the bending of light,” said Dieter Hartmann, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy. “Scientists have a lot of open questions about the mechanisms that drive our sun. This eclipse will help answer many of them in ways that will be both pragmatically beneficial and visually splendorous.”