Clemson astronomers Andrew Garmon (left) and Amber Porter spoke to about 300 students at McLees Elementary School in Anderson.

Clemson astronomers Andrew Garmon (left) and Amber Porter spoke to about 300 students at McLees Elementary School in Anderson.
Image Credit: Penny Tritt

ANDERSON — A solar eclipse will occur on Aug. 21 over much of the Upstate, but it will not be the result of a sky-dragon eating the sun.

At least, that’s one of the messages that physics and astronomy graduate student Andrew Garmon conveyed to about 300 third- and fourth-grade students at McLees Elementary School. On May 30, Garmon and fellow physics and astronomy lecturer Amber Porter met with the students in the packed library of McLees to educate them on eclipses and the safety measures that come with viewing them.

The scientists set the scene of the presentation by transporting the students back to the days of cavemen.

“They’re about to go hunting, but all of a sudden the sun is just disappearing, yet they don’t know why. How scary this must be if they don’t know what’s coming,” Garmon said.

Garmon then progressed through thousands of years of solar eclipse history before arriving at today’s scientific understanding of the phenomenon. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. One of Porter and Garmon’s demonstrations showed students how an object as small as the moon can eclipse a star as huge as the sun. One student held a large, inflated ball to represent the sun, and another was given a much smaller ball to represent the moon. The student holding the “moon” then had to walk as far away as he could to reveal the distance needed in order to fully eclipse the “sun.”

In more scientific terms, the sun is 400 times larger than the moon but also about 400 times farther away. From our perspective on Earth, this creates the perception that the sun and moon are virtually the same size.

The outreach event was the latest in a series of appearances by the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy, where team members are focused on creating a buzz for the upcoming solar eclipse. Now less than three months away, this total solar eclipse will be the first to stretch across the entire contiguous United States since 1918. Clemson happens to be positioned near the center of the eclipse’s band, a virtually perfect location from which to witness this extraordinary cosmic show.

Clemson University is busy planning a mega-event where thousands are expected to gather and view the spectacle together, complete with plenty of parking, open space, expert demonstrations and vendors. Clemson will also be providing solar glasses to protect viewers’ eyes from the damaging rays of the sun. The eclipse will begin at 1:07 p.m. and end about three hours later at 4:02 p.m. The totality of the eclipse – during which the moon will entirely cover the sun – will begin around 2:37 p.m. and last less than three minutes. During this brief totality, viewers will be able to remove their solar glasses and stare directly at the eclipse without risk of physical harm.

“We really stressed the safety aspect for the kids because that’s the biggest thing,” Garmon said. “The students’ eyes are most important. One girl even wanted to know if her dog needed solar glasses and I absolutely loved that.”

Porter and Garmon explained that ordinary sunglasses and eyeglasses will not suffice. Only solar glasses specially designed to filter out 99 percent of visible light – as well as harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays – will protect your eyes from damage during the spectacle.

“We had a lot of great questions, mostly regarding the eyewear,” Garmon said. “But the students left being interested and excited about this eclipse and about science, overall. They wanted to tell their parents and their family.”

To learn more about Clemson’s University’s “Eclipse Over Clemson” event, visit clemson.edu/eclipse. And be sure to check back frequently for updates.

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