Porter demonstrates how the moon and the sun appear to be the same size during a total solar eclipse.

Porter demonstrates how the moon and the sun appear to be the same size during a total solar eclipse.
Image Credit: Hannah Halusker / Clemson University

CLEMSON, South Carolina — How long can you film the sun, without a proper filter, before UV rays will fry your camera?

According to Andrew Garmon, a graduate student in Clemson University’s department of physics and astronomy, the answer is about 40 seconds if you’re using your cell phone’s camera. Factoids like this are what Garmon and Amber Porter, a physics and astronomy lecturer, communicated to more than 200 people on July 25 at a number of outreach events held in conjunction with the Pickens County Library System.

Given the impending “Great American Eclipse” of Aug. 21 that will place Clemson and surrounding areas in the path of totality, the pair centered their outreach around eclipse science and history, with a heavy emphasis on safety precautions for viewing eclipses. Toddlers, siblings, parents and grandparents were in attendance for the events, which were presented primarily with young children in mind.

Using inflatable balls, Porter and Garmon demonstrated that — even though the moon and the sun appear to be the same size during a total solar eclipse — in actuality, the sun is 400 times larger than the moon and also about 400 times farther away. Garmon then reviewed eye safety by modeling different types of glasses — eyeglasses, sunglasses, oversized sunglasses and solar shades — until the children were able to recognize that only solar shades are safe for viewing eclipses. Porter and Garmon rounded out their presentation with a craft activity that allowed the children to make their own total solar eclipse drawings using chalk.

Chalk drawings and stickers were the children's take-away from Porter and Garmon's July 25 library visit.

Attendees took home eclipse chalk drawings from Porter and Garmon’s July 25 library visit.
Image Credit: Hannah Halusker / Clemson University

The pair led this event first at the Village Branch Library in Pickens, then at the Central-Clemson Library, and finally at the Sarlin Branch Library in Liberty, totaling six hours of travel and presentation.

However, Garmon wasn’t hindered by the time consumption.

“Outreach like this is important to us because it gives communities a chance to come together, whether they’re young or old, to learn about science,” Garmon said. “In the department of physics and astronomy, we take it as a great privilege to educate the public about the upcoming solar eclipse.”

Porter and Garmon’s library visits were just a few of many outreach events that have occurred in the months leading up to the eclipse. The pair’s efforts have taken them to elementary schools, daycares and other libraries in areas surrounding Clemson to give presentations much like those held at the Pickens County libraries.

On July 27, they visited the Clemson Child Development Center to educate 3- to 4-year olds about the eclipse through storybooks and arts and crafts.

Then on Aug. 1, Porter and Garmon visited the Happy Hearts Club of Seneca, an organization for anyone age 50 or older to gather for fun and friendship. There, Porter and Garmon gave a short presentation, followed by an eclipse question-and-answer session.

Other events in the pair’s outreach series included a visit to the Clemson Downs retirement community on Aug. 2 and a presentation on Aug. 3 to Clemson Thinks2, a cohort of faculty members who are using seminars and scholarly research to expand their know-how and improve the student learning experience at Clemson.

Although Porter and Garmon are keeping themselves busy in the weeks leading up to the eclipse, their work lends toward an educated public that can share in the excitement and continue to spread eclipse knowledge with friends and family. This point stands as Garmon’s motivation for pursuing outreach in his graduate studies.

“We’re reigniting that flame of curiosity that is within all of us… getting people to ask questions, wonder why and want to understand,” Garmon said. “That’s my favorite part.”