Southeast Kicks Off Slate of Solar Eclipse Countdown Events

Eclipse LogoSoutheast Missouri State University will kick off its celebration of the Great American Solar Eclipse– an event promising the sight of a lifetime on Aug. 21 – with a slate of eclipse-themed events beginning on campus next week.

Those wishing to get a head start on what to look for in the night sky are invited to attend “Astronomy in the Suburbs: An Introduction to Star Gazing” being offered from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, and again from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30. Dr. Peggy Hill, professor of physics at Southeast, will teach the sessions in Magill Hall Room 228.

Participants will get a basic understanding of the night sky and how to enjoy it from their own neighborhood. Hill will guide participants through the constellations and how to use a sky chart to locate the major stars, locate the major planets and observe the phases of the moon. Those who attend also will learn basic astronomy concepts to further their enjoyment of the night sky and participate in a discussion on what to expect during the total solar eclipse here in August. A textbook is not required, although a list of recommended books is available by request. The cost is $30.

A second primer is planned for noon-1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, as part of Kent Library’s Athenaeum Series. This free presentation titled “Citizen CATE: Solar Eclipse Science for Everyone” is planned in Sadie’s Place in Kent Library. Hill and Dr. Mike Rodgers, professor of chemistry, will discuss the Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) project involving citizen astronomers from more than 60 sites taking images of the brightness of the inner solar corona as the eclipse passes over various locations across the United States.

One of the Citizen CATE experiment sites will be located in Perryville, Missouri, on Aug. 21, and Southeast and its students will be a part of the research at this site. The National Solar Observatory with support from the National Science Foundation is funding the cost of equipment for Southeast students and faculty to use to collect data while in Perryville during the eclipse. Sixty identical telescopes across the path of totality will be used to collect images of the lowest layers of the solar corona during the eclipse. These layers have been challenging for astronomers to previously capture in images. While the totality phase of the eclipse will only last about two minutes at each site, data will be collected from each site and combined in a 90-minute movie to reveal for the first time how this part of the solar atmosphere changes during 90 minutes, Hill said.

She, Rodgers and the Southeast students collecting data in Perryville on Aug. 21 will participate in training April 29-30 at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to learn more about their research efforts during the eclipse.

Southeast is planning a third event on April 10 to prepare for the total solar eclipse. Titled “Eclipse 101: Preparing for Darkness at Noon,” this Continuing Education course will help participants learn there is more to the skies than just star-gazing.

Some of nature’s most spectacular astronomical phenomena were, at times, terrifying to our ancestors, said Hill, who also will teach this course. This free information session will help people understand the science of the upcoming solar eclipse. Hill will help participants cut through the superstition and learn valuable tips for safe-viewing, as well as offer educational activities the entire family can enjoy.

“We will also talk about local astronomical resources, upcoming events, and opportunities to learn more,” she said.

“Eclipse 101” Preparing for Darkness at Noon” is planned for 7-8:30 p.m. April 10 in Rhodes Hall Room 121.

To register for both “Astronomy in the Suburbs: An Introduction to Star Gazing” and “Eclipse 101: Preparing for Darkness at Noon,” visit eclipse.semo.edu. For more information, contact Dr. Peggy Hill at (573) 651-2394.

Plans for events occurring Aug. 21 at Southeast are still being finalized. Please visit eclipse.semo.edu for regular updates.