A Recap of the Eclipse on Campus

Posted by Chris Varney on Thursday, September 7, 2017 at 12:45 PM PDT

On August 21st, people all across the country stood outside with pinhole projectors and the coveted eclipse glasses to catch a glimpse of the historic solar eclipse. Seattle University’s campus drew quite a crowd, but while faculty, staff and students gathered on the green, members of Seattle University’s College of Science and Engineering packed the roof of the engineering building for their own event to celebrate the momentous occasion. We asked Chris Varney, lab manager for the physics department and event co-host, to share his experience of the eclipse.

People wearing eclipse glasses and looking at the sky.
Dr. Joanne Hughes, a professor of physics, and I hosted an event for all Science and Engineering faculty, staff and students to watch the eclipse on the roof of the engineering building. The event was born out of a learning opportunity for Joanne's summer session astronomy class, which meets on mornings and happened to coincide with the eclipse. At least 50 people spent their morning with us, bringing their significant others and children to make a family event out of it.

People brought their own viewing devices, such as pinhole cameras and eclipse glasses.

For our part, we put an appropriate filter on the end of the telescope, aimed it at the sun and projected the image out of the eyepiece onto a screen. Projecting the image was necessary due to the intensity of the light. Even with the filter in place, it was much too bright to look through the telescope with your own eye. We demonstrated this by placing one lens of a pair of eclipse glasses at the eyepiece of the viewfinder and the light instantly melted through. It was akin to burning ants with a magnifying glass only faster. Hence, the projection. The projected image was a couple feet across so that everyone could see it clearly from anywhere in the observatory dome. We even got to see a few sunspots (before the moon covered them).

A projection of the eclipse on a screen.

It was great having such an educated and inquisitive crowd to spend the event with. Joanne and I fielded questions that ranged from the optimistic, “Will we be able to see the corona?” to the inquisitive, “What exactly are sunspots?” to the we-can-make-up-numbers-right-here-on-the-spot-and-you-would-probably-never-know, “How fast is the moon moving?” The real answer, provided by Dr. Hughes, was over 2000 mph in orbit around the earth, and what was causing the moon's shadow to move quickly across the earth was our rotation on our axis of 1000 mph. There was a lot of passion for science on that rooftop, which made it all that much more enjoyable.

Child looking up at the sky with eclipse glasses

It was an exciting experience watching the sun slowly turn into a crescent and back again. Usually that's something only the moon gets to do. It seems appropriate, then, that the moon was there to help the sun achieve these goals. The temperature dipped slightly and the area dimmed to a weird not-quite-dusk sort of light that I'm not sure my brain ever fully figured out how to process. I am pleased to have experienced this very rare occurrence in this way.