Excitement is gathering about the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the continental United States on August 21, 2017. Williams College astronomy professor Jay Pasachoff, a veteran of 63 solar eclipses, is describing how to prepare the public for the great event in a press conference at the meeting of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society held in Boulder, Colorado, this week.
Pasachoff is presenting examples of his team’s beautiful high-resolution images of the solar corona, the Sun’s outer layer, and how his ground-based eclipse results can be merged with solar observations from space telescopes to give the complete view of the Sun’s atmosphere that is available only on the days of total solar eclipses, which occur somewhere in the world about every year and a half. The 2017 eclipse will be the first time in 99 years that the 70-mile-wide path of totality crosses the United States from coast to coast. Pasachoff explains, “If you are in that path of totality, you are seeing the main event, but if you are off to the side — even where the Sun is 99% covered by the Moon — it is like going up to the ticket booth of a baseball or football stadium but not going inside.” Pasachoff continues, “Our jobs, as educators, is to carry across to the general public how fantastic and inspirational it will be for them to travel into the path of totality.” He continues, “Though the rest of the continental U.S. will have at least a 55% partial eclipse, it won’t ever get dark there and eye-protection filters would have to be used at all times even to know that the eclipse is happening. The dramatic effects occur only for those in the path of totality.”
Williams College, for the observations to be headed by Pasachoff in 2017, recently received a $252,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Solar Terrestrial Program of the Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division. The grant is to support Pasachoff, colleagues from around the U.S. and from some foreign countries, and Williams College students to prepare for and to observe the total eclipse, and then to study the resulting data and write it up for scientific colleagues and for the public. Pasachoff had earlier received a $25,000 grant for part of the expedition from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society. The Williams College team will be based in Salem, Oregon, near the location where the cloudiness statistics based on 20 years of satellite imaging are most favorable.
Pasachoff is spending his spring-2016 sabbatical leave at the California Institute of Technology, from which he is continuing with eclipse preparations. He is Chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses.
Prof. Jay M. Pasachoff
+1 617 285 6351 (cell)
His expedition website is http://totalsolareclipse.org. He runs http://eclipses.info for the IAU.
Williams College, founded in 1793, is in the Berkshires in northwestern Massachusetts. The college’s 2000 students are taught by a faculty experienced in involving the students in forefront research. The College’s diversity benefits from its need-blind admissions.