A hush fell over the roof of the Webster University parking garage as the total eclipse went underway. Students, faculty and other members of the Webster Groves community traveled far and wide to be united under complete totality dur
ing the Webster Total Eclipse event August 21.
Over 850 people stood looking at the sky during the 75 seconds that total darkness occurred. One was an avid astronomy lover, another was an international student from India. People from all walks and ages of life came to experience the Great American Eclipse of 2017.
One thing all 850 had in common, they came together to experience something that was “once in a lifetime.”
Brad Griffith, a local astronomer from Bradbury Park, attended the event. He had with him a large telescope to see the eclipse in its entirety. Griffith said he loves the community enjoyment of events like the eclipse.
“When the families come, the elementary school kids are really excited about it, the pre-teens, and you show them the moon and the rings of Saturn and they say ‘that was so cool!” Griffith said. “This is not on the phone, this is not online, this is just right there hitting the retina of your eye.”
John Buck, the Associate Dean of Students at Webster, said the eclipse event was an intergenerational experience.
“I think it’s kind of a cool way to bring everyone together,” Buck said. “It’s this cross generational swath of people here which I think is really interesting.”
Buck also said it is important that Webster take part in an event like the Solar Eclipse event.
“This is science. This is why we have faculty in the sciences to teach us what all of this means and to highlight what they know.” Buck said. “There is so much to understand.”
Webster’s Total Solar Eclipse Celebration included academic lectures covering various topics relating to the science of solar eclipses.
Ravin Kodikara from the Department of Biological Sciences was the first lecturer to discuss the science behind total darkness.
A solar eclipse is defined as an astronomical event where the moon passes between the sun and the earth and the moon either partially or fully blocks the sun, according to NASA. The last coast to coast total solar eclipse was in 1918. The last total solar eclipse visible for most of the St. Louis area was in 1442.
A commonly asked questions is why do we not have a solar eclipse each month, Kodikara said. He explained the distance between the sun and the moon is what allows for totality. Usually, when the sun and the moon cross paths, the moon either passes above or below the sun.
“This is something that is very difficult to study when the sun has the full brightness,” Kodikara said. “So scientists wait for this moment to take as much data as possible about the corona.”
Students in Kodikara’s physics class took advantage of this event to further their study in physics and solar events. The experiment looked at how temperature, light, atmospheric pressure and wind speed was impacted by the solar eclipse.
Their experiment was also part of a NASA citizen scientist project called Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE).
“They are encouraging citizen scientists to gather as much data as possible of the eclipse and then share the data with them [NASA] so they can map the U.S. to see how weather is changing,” Kodikara said. “This is so in the future, they can make better predictions.”
In addition to the science classes participating in the event, there were also club participations. Ruchii Sheth from the International Students Association says that they attended the event because of the rarity of the eclipse.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, at least for us, to see something like this.” Sheth said. “I’m never going to see this again.”