Scientists spend ‘Solar Saturday’ enlightening curious about the upcoming eclipse
CENTRAL, South Carolina – Beneath a cloudless sky, more than 100 solar eclipse aficionados of all ages enjoyed a variety of fun and educational activities during Clemson University’s “Solar Saturday” event on May 6 at the Central-Clemson Regional Branch Library.
The coast-to-coast total solar eclipse that will pass directly over Clemson on Aug. 21 is still more than three months away. But Clemson University scientists are busy opening people’s eyes with an ongoing series of appearances leading up to the grand spectacle. Saturday’s event included solar observing via an 11-inch Celestron telescope, solar detective bracelet-making, eclipse chalk art drawings and hands-on demonstrations.
Amber Porter, a lecturer in the department of physics and astronomy in the College of Science, operated the powerful telescope, which drew a long line of kids and adults eager to see the sun up close.
“For many, it was their first time looking through a telescope of this size,” Porter said. “Today, they were able to see a sunspot, which are dark spots that temporarily appear on the sun’s surface and indicate a region of intense magnetic activity. I think we had a great turnout and the kids really enjoyed talking about the sun. We’re excited to have more events in our local community leading up to the total solar eclipse this summer.”
A total solar eclipse is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The last coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States was recorded in 1918. Clemson is located almost dead-center within a slender band of the contiguous U.S. where people will be able to view the entirety of the eclipse, which will begin to pass over the Upstate at about 1:07 p.m. Aug. 21 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 is already making plans to host its own eclipse viewing event that will include in-person appearances by College of Science experts, solar glasses to safely view the eclipse, plenty of parking and open space, and a variety of vendors. Clemson officials are planning for a large gathering. Anyone interested in attending the free viewing party can learn more at clemson.edu/eclipse. Be sure to check back often as the magical day approaches.
Andrew Garmon, a graduate student in physics and astronomy, played a significant role in planning and organizing Saturday’s event. Garmon spent the day at a busy crafting table, where he showed a dense gathering of excited kids how to construct chalk drawings of the sun’s corona, as well as helping them make wrist bracelets with UV beads that change color in sunlight.
“It was an absolute pleasure being able to not only teach the kids, but help them create something they could take home,” Garmon said. “And the adults were having fun, too. One of the best parts of educating someone about the eclipse is first hearing from them how much they already know. Answers range from ‘what eclipse?’ to heartfelt stories about an eclipse they witnessed in their childhood.”
Achyut Raghavendra, also a graduate research student in physics and astronomy, directed several hands-on demonstrations, including using a scaled-down model of the Earth and moon, along with a yardstick, to illustrate the vast size of the universe.
“I interacted with kids and parents with some demonstrations and was impressed by how inquisitive everyone was,” Raghavendra said. “Many school teachers who accompanied kids to the library stopped by to learn safe methods to enjoy the eclipse. More outreach events like this will educate and prepare the community to enjoy our upcoming celestial shadow play.”