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Film Celebrating Einstein to be Shot in IMAX; Portion Dedicated to UW Experiment of Aug. 21 Eclipse

July 31, 2017
man with a large video camera overlooking a view with ancient buildings
Daniel Ferguson, a documentary filmmaker with Cosmic Picture, will direct the documentary “Einstein’s Incredible Universe” and shoot the film in IMAX. He is working with UW and the AMK Ranch for a portion of the film that will showcase the Aug. 21 eclipse. (Cosmic Picture Photo)

On Aug. 21, the total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States for the first time in 39 years. And, the University of Wyoming-National Park Service (UW-NPS) Research Center at the AMK Ranch, near Leeks Marina in Grand Teton National Park, will provide the location of one of the most breathtaking and spectacular views of this phenomenon.

IMAX cameras will be there to capture the historic event in all its glory.

“When the filmmakers contacted me, they asked, ‘What is the most beautiful place along the eclipse path?,’” says Michael Pierce, a UW associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I said, ‘The Tetons.’”

Daniel Ferguson, a documentary filmmaker with Cosmic Picture, will direct the documentary “Einstein’s Incredible Universe (working title).” According to Ferguson, the effort will include multiple crews in seven states, including aerial footage shot in Wyoming. Additionally, the film will include footage from specialist eclipse chasers and photographers from around the world to provide additional shots for the eclipse sequence, Ferguson says.

“We hired these people for very specific shots we want,” Ferguson says. “We’ll get human faces wearing the (eclipse safety) glasses; a shot through glass skyscrapers with the sun; aerials, a big helicopter shot flying into the shadow over the Tetons; a close-up of the sun’s corona; and the eclipse exiting the beach in South Carolina,” where the eclipse exits the continental U.S.

Ferguson says he is currently working with NASA and the European Space Agency to obtain satellite photos of the eclipse.

And, of course, he wants to get a shot of traffic backed up on Wyoming’s back roads, much like the scene in the 1979 Steven Spielberg classic, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming played a pivotal role in that film.

A few months ago, Ferguson was in Wyoming scouting for locations for the film. Initially not finding what he needed, he considered moving his main cameras elsewhere. However, his research assistant, Sophie de Champlain, found contact information for Pierce and Michael Dillon, a UW associate professor of zoology and physiology, and director of the UW-NPS Research Center.

Ferguson recalls phoning Dillon, who invited him to the AMK Ranch to meet with him and Pierce.

“It all kind of happened. The stars aligned,” Ferguson says. “Obviously, the Tetons are really among the most spectacular landscapes in the path of totality, and the research station provides us with a stunning base to film the experiment that made Einstein famous.

“One of the things I’ve found in scouting this (for locations) is that everyone is excited. It’s a big deal. The public is focused and curious about this, especially the kids.”

The 45-minute feature film will be released in 2019, primarily showing in museums with IMAX and giant screens, Ferguson says.

mountain lake with rocky shore
This spectacular view of the Tetons can be seen from the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center at the AMK Ranch, near Leeks Marina in Grand Teton National Park. The location is expected to be one of the best places to view the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. (Michael Dillon Photo)

Recreating Eddington’s 1919 Experiment

For a small segment -- approximately 5 minutes -- of the IMAX movie, UW faculty members Pierce and Adam Myers will lead an experiment in which they will duplicate scientist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s May 29, 1919 experiment in which he imaged stars near the sun during a solar eclipse.

This experiment provided one of the earliest confirmations of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In effect, Einstein proved there is no such thing as a gravitational force as proposed by Sir Isaac Newton. Rather, general relativity is a distortion of space and time, Pierce says.

“Eddington’s experiment made Einstein a rock star,” says Pierce, who is Wyoming state coordinator for NASA’s Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment.

Using 61 telescope stations across the country, including nine in Wyoming spaced approximately 50 miles apart, the CATE project’s goal is to create a continuous 90-minute movie of the solar corona during the total eclipse. Researchers and scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the sun’s inner corona.

But, for the IMAX movie, the research focus for Pierce and Myers will be on recreating Eddington’s experiment.

“I see the experiment not really as ‘new science,’ or as something that will improve our tests of general relativity but, rather, as an opportunity for students to learn about and conduct one of the pivotal observational experiments of the 20th century,” says Myers, a UW associate professor of physics and astronomy. “Students would not have had the opportunity to run an experiment like this 100 years ago and expect a successful outcome, because the expense would have been too great, and the technology would have meant that detection was potentially only marginal.”

Myers says the goal is to train students to conduct observations using an experimental setup that can detect gravitational lensing of the light from distant stars by the mass of the sun. The bending of light from these stars makes the position of the stars change by an order of 1.75” (as predicted by general relativity) for light that is just grazing the edge of the sun.

“The size of our telescope means that we expect to be able to observe, of order, 100 times as many stars as Eddington did,” Myers says.

The camera manufacturer Hasselblad has even agreed to provide one of its highest-resolution, medium-format cameras to support the project, Ferguson says.

“This should allow us to capture some of the most detailed images ever of the stars around the sun’s corona,” Ferguson says. 

map of Wyoming with eclipse path marked
This map shows the path the total solar eclipse will take through the state of Wyoming Aug. 21. Along each path’s red line, the eclipse will last approximately 2:30. The blue dots represent where UW will place its portable telescopes. (UW Photo)

Eclipse Activities at AMK Ranch

The AMK Ranch will host a program and barbecue for the public Thursday, Aug. 17, Dillon says. The barbecue will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by a seminar, titled “Eclipses, Einstein, Eddington, and the Shattered Star That Has Yet to Shatter.” Myers will present the seminar.

An eclipse viewing, led by UW faculty and students, and the UW NASA Space Grant Consortium, is scheduled Monday, Aug. 21, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

The southern part of Grand Teton National Park will be one of the best places in the entire country to view the eclipse, according to the website Eclipse2017.org. On the centerline, the park will experience 2:20 of totality at about 11:35 a.m.

The shadow will then cross Pavillion (at 11:38 a.m.), and Shoshoni and Riverton (at 11:39 a.m.) for about 2:23 before landing squarely on the city of Casper. The centerline will pass right over the intersection of Highway 220 and South Poplar Street in Casper at 11:42 a.m., and provides viewers there with 2:26 in totality.

Douglas, Glendo, Thermopolis, Lusk and Torrington are other larger Wyoming towns that will experience a total eclipse. For those who live in or will be visiting Wheatland at that time, they will be right on the southern edge of the eclipse’s path and, so, the eclipse will only last a few seconds. To experience the full length of totality, people there will need to move north.

During portions of the eclipse where the sun is only partially covered and visible, safety glasses are advised. When it gets fully covered, meaning the moon is in front of and blocking out the sun, it will be safe to view the solar eclipse with the naked eye, Pierce says.

The UW-NPS Research Center provides a base for university faculty members and government scientists from throughout North America to conduct research in the diverse aquatic and terrestrial environments of Grand Teton National Park and the greater Yellowstone area.


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