University astronomers celebrate total solar eclipse


Jacob Singleton

University astronomers have spent the last two year’s preparing for Monday’s total solar eclipse. While they will be traveling to southern Illinois to witness the most intense changes in the path of totality, 93 percent of the sun in Champaign-Urbana will be eclipsed. The photographed solar eclipse was captured in southern Illinois on Monday, Aug. 21.

By Jessica Bursztynsky, Interim Editor-in-Chief

Tens of thousands of people are expected to crowd to southern Illinois on Aug. 21 to witness the total solar eclipse, a small time period in which the moon covers the sun and day seems to suddenly turn to night for a few minutes. 

Among the large crowd will be astronomers with the University’s Department of Astronomy. The department has spent about the last two years preparing for this historical event, said Leslie Looney, director of the Laboratory for Astronomical Imaging.

“We have given eclipse presentations to nearly 7,000 K-12 students across the state, given 10’s of public talks, run teacher workshops, and visited a few prisons that will be in totality,” Looney said in an email.

During the actual eclipse, Looney and over 60 other professional astronomers will be hosting two presentations in Goreville, Ill., which he said is “the closest village to the point of longest duration for totality.”

The first event is expected to bring in 500 University alumni and is sold out, Looney said. The second is a free public event in Goreville City Park, and about 2,000 people are to be expected.

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    “A total solar eclipse is an amazing sight,” Looney said. “Physically it is an amazing combination of an eerie weird darkness, a small temperature drop, a strange quiet, and the immense beauty of the solar corona that are larger than their individual parts.   The feeling is indescribable— it grabs you by the heart in a fundamental way.”

    For those unprepared for the eclipse, Looney and his team will help qualm fears.

    “Astronomers wearing bright orange U of I t-shirts will be around answering questions, giving out eclipse glasses,” he said.

    Updates and safety notices will be announced over a PA system, so people will know when it’s safe to remove the eclipse glasses that are needed to protect their eyes from the sun’s rays.

    There also is going to be seven different University outreach tables, said Looney, including the departments of Astronomy, Chemistry, Entomology, Geology, Institute for Genomic Biology and Atmospheric Science.

    Champaign-Urbana is not going to miss out on the solar eclipse, so people need not worry if they can’t travel down to southern Illinois.

    While C-U is not in the path of totality, the sun will be 93 percent eclipsed in the area, Looney said.

    “That is alone an amazing sight,” he added. “Due to our eyes not being very sensitive to such a change in sunlight, we will barely notice the difference in light.  But, if you look around at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Monday (near the peak), you will notice the lighting is unusual and a little more dramatic.”

    Even though it’s not in the path of totality, Looney stresses the importance of wearing eclipse glasses no matter the location.

    The Illini Union Courtyard Cafe is marking the occasion by gathering on Anniversary Plaza from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will provide food and music. Eclipse glasses will not be provided.

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