While the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21 will be a view of a lifetime for millions, the event is poised to mark SC State University in the astronomy history books. The state’s only publicly supported Historically Black University will be among 70 sites across the country participating in a national research initiative with historical promise.
SC State astronomers will capture hundreds of images that will be used as part of the national project. Serving as South Carolina’s lead institution, SC State is coordinating six additional teams: Clemson University, Lander University, Coker College, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and locations stationed in the Isle of Palms and McClellanville, where the path of totality for the Continental United States will end.
The South Carolina team joins a network of citizen-scientists who will be located along the path of totality – from Oregon to South Carolina. They all will be taking digital photos of the sun’s outer gaseous atmosphere called the corona, which is not usually visible to the naked eye. The thousands of captured images will be combined to produce an over 90-minute movie of the dynamic solar corona, a historical first. The project is spearheaded by The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment or CATE, and is funded through NASA and the National Science Foundation.
The last occurrence of a total solar eclipse to take place from coast to coast occurred in 1918, nearly a century ago.
“Only during a total solar eclipse can we see the faintest details of the corona. This is why scientists run all over the world wherever there is a total eclipse. People take their telescopes to locations where it can be observed because, for that fleeting few moments, people can observe things that they can never see at any other time,” said SC State Astronomer Dr. Don Walter.
Walter says the observations gathered by the 70 telescopes will help scientists to learn more about the physical properties of the corona, which is comprised of high and low density gases that travel quickly hundreds of miles per second.
“One instrument alone would learn a little bit, but by stretching telescopes across the country and creating this continuous 90-minute movie, we will be able to see more about how the atmosphere changes. This has never been done, and we are certainly excited that SC State University plays an important role in this first-ever project,” Walter said.
Also a physics professor, Walter is the state’s lead coordinator for the national scientific study. He and Dr. Daniel Smith, professor of physics, along with alumnus Myles McKay, trained the South Carolina scientists on the equipment that will be used to capture the images. Preparation for this research project began nearly two years ago, when Walter and McKay traveled to Indonesia on a NASA-funded grant in March 2016, to observe an earlier total solar eclipse. During that trip the two tested similar equipment that will be used Monday.
SC State’s team of scientists will set up its telescope and other equipment during the university’s Orangeburg Solar ’17 Viewing Party. The event will be held in the Oliver C. Dawson Stadium from 11 .am. – 4 p.m. The event is free, and gates to the stadium will open at 11.
Entertainment will be provided by the SC State University Marching 101, Sapphire Pom Squad and the SC State Cheerleaders. The partial phase of the eclipse begins at 1:14 p.m. and will peak with totality occurring for nearly three minutes at 2:43 p.m. At that point, the day’s sky will darken temporarily to night, as the moon covers the sun.
Several educational activities will be available for attendees, including a crafts area for both the young and old. Vendors from the local community will also be on hand, providing information on services, including health-related, financial and home improvement; food and beverages from area restaurants and catering companies will be sold, as well as other products and items of interest.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to observe another scientific experiment that will be conducted on the campus. A group of students and faculty from The University of Alabama will be on site to launch a balloon. Similar to a weather balloon, the UA balloon will be used to gather weather data and livestream the eclipse to a website as part of the NASA Space Grant network’s Eclipse Ballooning Project.
For more information on Orangeburg Solar ’17, visit eclipse.scsu.edu.