Experience the Total Solar Eclipse at Westminster

Solar ecplise

July 28, 2017

By Alex Boissonnas

SALT LAKE CITY—The first week of classes at Westminster College will kick off with a galactic event. On August 21, look to the skies as the United States experiences its first coast-to-coast, total solar eclipse since 1918. The eclipse will travel along a path from Oregon to South Carolina, creating a swath across the United States. Spectators will experience a total solar eclipse — where the moon fully obscures the sun.

In Salt Lake City, Westminster will experience about a 91% partial eclipse. Peak viewing will occur around 11:30 a.m., Monday morning — just as first-year orientation is underway on campus. The incoming class of 2021 will not miss the event. Orientation activities will include an eclipse-viewing party with solar glasses. Faculty, staff and other students are invited to join. Spare solar glasses will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Those willing to drive up to Idaho or Wyoming, the closest states experiencing a total eclipse, can witness the full event. For a complete look at the path of the eclipse, take a look at this interactive map.

Julia Kamenetzky, assistant professor of physics, says the experience is worth the drive. According to Kamenetzky, there’s a big difference between watching a partial eclipse and a total eclipse.

“Actually experience totality,” Kamenetzky said. “We’re too far south, [observers] need to go north. The closer you are to the center line of totality, the longer period of time you’ll get to be in totality.”

Kamenetzky is co-teaching a class with geology professor Tiffany Rivera created around the eclipse. Students in Eclipse in Yellowstone Country will travel to Idaho to view the eclipse and collect data while learning about astronomy and geology. The students and Kamenetzky are also participating in the Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment, performed by volunteers across the United States to document the solar corona during the eclipse. Check out news coverage of their efforts here.

“We’re taking a movie of the solar corona,” Kamenetzky said. “That’s kind of the outer layer, the atmosphere of the sun. Normally we can’t see that because photosphere of the sun, the surface of the sun, is so bright.”

When a solar eclipse occurs, the moon fully blocks the sun’s light, allowing for observation of the solar corona.

“It’s kind of like when somebody throws a ball up in the air to you and you put your hand in front of the sun to see it,” Kamenetzky said.

CATE will use 68 identical telescopes across the United States to record the sun’s corona, made possible because the August 21 eclipse is the first in nearly a century to cross over the entire country from coast to coast.

“There’s a total time of 90 minutes across the country, but any one telescope will only have about two minutes of totality where we can actually observe the corona,” Kamenetzky said. “So what we’re going to do is put together those two-minute movies to make a 90-minute movie.”

In order to safely observe the eclipse, enthusiasts will need to use a pair of special eclipse glasses designed to allow the wearer to look at the sun. Any other method of watching the eclipse poses a safety risk for the observer.

Plenty of proper eclipse-viewing glasses will be available to first-year students during orientation and many spares will be available to those on campus wanting to safely watch the historic event. For those leaving Salt Lake City and making the trip to totality, Kamenetzky advised an early start.

“Be prepared for a lot of traffic,” Kamenetzky said. “It’s going to be huge.”

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About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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