Today@Sam Article

Eclipse Viewing Event Open To The Community

April 4, 2024
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd

A photo taken by Morgan Robertson shows the stages of last year's solar eclipse.

On April 8, millions of people across the globe will look to the skies to catch a glimpse of a rare solar eclipse. With the line of totality crossing through central Texas, residents may wonder where they can safely see the event for themselves.

Astronomers in the Sam Houston State University Department of Physics and Astronomy will host an eclipse viewing event that is open to the community from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Frank Parker Plaza, weather permitting. Should rain put a damper on the event, they will relocate to suite 204 in the Farrington Building, where they will still do demonstrations and stream the eclipse on NASA TV.

In the plaza, visitors will encounter Daniel Horenstein and his astronomy students manning different eclipse education stations including two solar telescopes, sun and astronomy demonstrations and booths offering solar eclipse glasses and other viewing materials while supplies last.

“It’s sort of an all of the above thing in terms of not only viewing the eclipse, but also understanding more about what eclipses are and why they happen, why they’re fairly rare events,” Horenstein said.

Some may recall the eclipse event that occurred last fall and wonder what the fuss is about. Horenstein explained that what sets this one apart is distance.

“Sometimes the moon is a little bit farther away from the earth and sometimes it’s a little bit closer,” he said. “During the one from last fall, the moon was a little bit farther away in its orbit, so it doesn’t look like it entirely blocks out the sun. Compared to a total solar eclipse, the moon is a little bit closer than average, so it does block out the entire bright part of the sun and allows us to study the outer regions of the sun’s atmosphere.”

Thanks to the moon’s proximity to Earth during the eclipse, the sun will appear covered by the moon in certain locations, specifically, San Antonio, Waco, Austin and Dallas. At SHSU, onlookers will witness the moon blocking out about 97% of the sun according to Horenstein, allowing eventgoers to see only a tiny sliver of the sun unobscured by the moon.

Plaza2.jpgWhile it can be tempting to sneak a glance at the celestial event while walking, it is important to note that looking at an eclipse without proper eye protection can severely impair eyesight. Horenstein said that the best way to look at the eclipse is through solar eclipse glasses, but if those are unavailable, people can view the effects of the eclipse by making a small hole in a piece of cardboard or similar things and view the crescent-shaped shadow that is projected on the ground.

“Appropriate eye protection is really important, even a welding hood is not really going to be sufficient,” Horenstein said. “You would really need to see either eclipse glasses from a reliable source, or solar telescopes, which we’re going to have set up.”

By hosting this event, the physics department and astronomy professors like Horenstein are excited to showcase their expertise and allow their students to gain real-world experience in engaging with the public. By operating different educational stations or roaming the plaza answering questions, they will learn how to explain their work to the general population and develop essential communication skills.

“For me, as an educator, we can use eclipses to study the solar corona and study the outermost layers of the sun, but it also gets everyone talking about astronomy,” Horenstein said. “That part is exciting to me, as well as being here to serve the local community, welcome people onto campus and show them what we’re about and why science is exciting.”

Travelers heading to regions of the state with totality should plan ahead for an influx of traffic caused by those chasing the eclipse. Those coming to campus can find parking in the pay by hour parking spaces around campus or by using one of the university garages.

To learn more about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit their webpage and for updates on the Dominey Observatory, sign up for the observatory’s mailing list.

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