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UW Plans Many Activities for Aug. 21 Eclipse

August 9, 2017
man holding a telescope
Michael Pierce, an associate professor in the UW Department of Physics and Astronomy, poses with one of the nine portable telescopes provided to high school teachers to capture, on video, the movement of the total solar eclipse scheduled to pass through Wyoming Aug. 21. Pierce is the Wyoming state coordinator for NASA’s Citizen CATE or Continental America Telescope Eclipse Experiment. (UW Photo)

University of Wyoming astronomy professors will host five outreach venues for the public during the total solar eclipse Aug. 21, just one of many eclipse activities UW is involved in for the historic event.

Adam Myers will be at the UW-National Park Service (UW-NPS) Research Center in Grand Teton National Park; Michael Pierce will host the Casper site at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds; Hannah Jang-Condell will be at Guernsey State Park; Chip Kobulnicky will man the site at Glendo State Park; and Danny Dale will head the venue at Boysen State Park.

“We'll be at each site during the morning and early afternoon of Aug. 21,” says Dale, a UW professor and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I personally also will be leading an evening star party Aug. 20 at Boysen, which means letting folks look through the telescope and explaining what they are seeing -- and, similarly, on Monday afternoon, but during the daytime eclipse. And, we’ll be handing out eclipse glasses and UW-emblazoned eclipse T-shirts.”

Kobulnicky, a UW professor of astronomy and physics, expects a similar scenario at Glendo State Park, where a star viewing will take place the night before the eclipse.

“Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, last month, estimated that the population of Glendo will increase 5,000 percent that day,” Kobulnicky says of Aug. 21. “Beyond that, I don't know much. I'll just show up with a team of students and my family at whatever campsite the park superintendent assigns us.”

“We are just planning to do outreach for the eclipse itself at this point,” says Jang-Condell, a UW assistant professor of physics and astronomy, of the Guernsey State Park site. “The park has planned other activities over the weekend.”

Pierce, a UW associate professor of physics and astronomy, says he and two UW students will be set up with a telescope and hand out eclipse promotional materials Aug. 21 at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper.

The outreach venues are just one of many public activities UW is involved in regarding the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental U.S. in 39 years.

-- The UW-NPS Research Center, at AMK Ranch near Leeks Marina in Grand Teton National Park, will host a program and barbecue for the public Thursday, Aug. 17, says Michael Dillon, a UW associate professor of zoology and physiology, and director of the research center. 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 talk, which is part of the Hank Harlow Summer Seminar Series.

Eclipse outreach activities will be held for the public at AMK Ranch Friday, Aug. 18, and Saturday, Aug. 19, says Myers, a UW associate professor of physics and astronomy.

-- Katie Foster and Phil Bergmaier, both UW doctoral students in atmospheric science, are working in concert with the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium on a project that will use weather balloons to track and video record the eclipse Aug. 21.

For the project, the Space Grant Consortium will send a weather balloon and its payload -- live-broadcasting cameras, video and tracking systems on board -- up between 60,000 and 100,000 feet in the vicinity of Casper at the time of the full solar eclipse, Foster says.

Dozens of groups from across the United States -- ranging from Oregon to South Carolina -- will launch high-altitude balloons over the path of eclipse totality, capturing live video from onboard cameras at 60,000-plus feet as the shadow of the moon passes over the Earth below. These videos will be streamed live over the internet to NASA’s website for millions of people to see, Bergmaier says.

In addition to the Casper launch, Suki Smaglik, a former professor of earth and physical sciences at Central Wyoming College, will head a group of middle school and high school teachers, and their students, from Riverton. The group will launch a balloon near Pavillion. Another group, headed by Jack Crabtree, an adjunct professor from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, will launch a weather balloon from Glendo State Park.

sign at state park
This sign in Boysen State Park makes note of the total solar eclipse that will pass through the park Aug. 21. Danny Dale, a UW professor and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will head university public outreach activities about the eclipse that day.

An eclipse viewing, led by UW faculty and students, and the Space Grant Consortium, is scheduled Monday, Aug. 21, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper.

“We are planning on doing eclipse activities for the public both Friday and Saturday (Aug. 18-19) mid-afternoon – most likely 2-4 p.m. on both days,” says Shawna McBride, interim director of the Space Grant Consortium. 

On Friday, the eclipse activities will be focused more toward younger groups of students (K-6) with lots of hands-on activities to get them engaged in understanding how a total solar eclipse works. The Saturday activities will be geared more for the general public and also include a mini-Discovery Days setup as well, with information about UW, admissions fliers and information about some of the research and education projects happening at UW, she says.

There also is talk of ending the Saturday activities with a dinner/barbecue, hosted by the UW Alumni Association, from 5-7 p.m. The dinner would target any UW alumni who might be in the area for the eclipse, McBride says.

-- UW Admissions plans presentations and campus tours Monday, Aug. 21, and Tuesday, Aug. 22, and will tie in the viewing of the eclipse for prospective students traveling to and from the full eclipse path -- or those who experience it in Laramie, which is outside the path of totality but will offer a view of the partial eclipse.

Admissions presentations, running about 45 minutes each, are scheduled at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Campus tours are scheduled at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

“We will not have a check-in time at 11 a.m. (Aug. 21), as the eclipse is occurring during that hour and we want people to be able to experience that rather than being in a presentation,” says Amy Fenolia, UW assistant director of admissions. “There will be a tour scheduled during the eclipse time, but we will make sure the tour guide is outside during the eclipse for all to see -- and knowing that the tour may last a little longer due to the stop/watch of the eclipse.”

Assisting NASA

Pierce is the Wyoming state coordinator for NASA’s Citizen CATE or Continental America Telescope Eclipse Experiment. Using 61 telescopes stations across the country, including nine in Wyoming spaced approximately 50 miles apart, the 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.

Nine portable refracting telescopes will be stationed in Wyoming at the following locations: Wilson, just west of Jackson; Elk Ridge, Dubois High School, Lakeside Boulevard near Pilot Butte Reservoir, located between Dubois and Riverton; Riverton City Park; Hell’s Half Acre, a large scarp located about 40 minutes west of Casper; Pathways STEAM Academy/High School in Casper; Bartling Park in Douglas; and Guernsey Elementary School. High school science teachers and students will man the telescopes and, using a laptop hooked to each, video-record the total eclipse at each point, Pierce says.

Pierce says scientists want to study the behavior of the hot gases in the sun’s inner solar corona.

“The temperature changes dramatically, from 6,000 degrees at the surface of the sun. Then, the glow (resembles a diamond) you see around the sun during the eclipse goes to 1 million degrees,” Pierce explains. “This is a rapid temperature change. The inner part of the corona has complex filaments that look like fingers and these trace the sun’s magnetic field.”

New scientific results about the dynamics of the magnetic fields and plasmas in this part of the solar corona will be derived from the data collected at the 61 telescope sites nationwide.

map of eclipse path
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)

Path of the Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is when the moon’s shadow touches the Earth and blankets portions of it in total darkness for a few moments. In essence, the sun, moon and Earth align. A person in the dark part of that shadow, known as the umbra, will see a total eclipse. A person in the light part, called the penumbra, will see a partial eclipse.

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.


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