Total Eclipse of the Heart *turn around bright eyes*

And so the day has come and gone! We made good time down to Charleston and back, thankfully avoiding much of the forecasted traffic on I95. The day before the eclipse, we set out into the city to investigate where viewing events might be happening around the city. We started the day at the College of Charleston, hoping that we might also be able to find some students and professors to interview for a local perspective. I got extremely lucky and found both when we stumbled upon a CNN interview with college students who had planned outreach events at parks and libraries around the Charleston Area and the Astrophysics professor who had organized the events. It was an awesome opportunity to both conduct my research project and see some professional journalists in action. The professor then directed me to a talk that was to be held that afternoon at their college library. A NASA scientist would be discussing the discovery of exoplanets using the transit method, which essentially uses mini eclipses to locate planets orbiting far distant stars. Following that lead granted me an introduction to NASA’s Director of Astrophysics who recommended I talk to leading Heliophysics expert and NASA scientist, Alex Young. Young was to preparing to host NASA’s eclipse broadcast the next day, so we hung around the set, hoping to ask him a few questions in a free moment. While we waited, an unexpected surprise in the form of Bill Murray showed up. Apparently he was just there to watch the eclipse, casually. No big deal. So while I, and several important NASA scientists, stood a little star struck, Bill and Alex chatted about astronomy.

After the excitement, I was able to ask Young a few questions about the scientific significance of a total eclipse like this one before collapsing of exhaustion back at the hotel. A full day and the eclipse hadn’t even happened yet.

They day of the eclipse dawned cloudy and uncertain in Charleston. On a spur of the moment decision based off the dreary forecast and growing thunderhead clouds off the coast, we hopped into the car with my gear and began to drive west to Columbia. We reached Columbia around 9 a.m. and settled into Riverfront Park to wait under friendlier skies. The lack of clouds meant we couldn’t hide from the sun as it rose, so we sweated our way through the day.

1:13 p.m. came at last and cheers rose up from the watchers. Glasses on, people turned to the sky to watch the sun shrink away to nothing. When totality arrived everyone was gasping and clapping and wooooing. The corona was clearly visible, and it was an ethereal sight.

The eclipse truly captured the heart of the nation. Those who couldn’t witness totality were still able to feel the sunlight wane as the moon crossed the sun’s path and see the sun transformed from sphere to crescent and back again. Social media was buzzing with in the days after. Now all that’s left is combining my firsthand experience with the context of my research and hopefully I’ll have an interesting story to tell you all at the showcase.

Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. bgstephenson says:

    It’s super cool that you approached this from an interdisciplinary perspective, and involved a current event the whole country got excited about. Looking forward to seeing what you bring to the showcase!

  2. I think its unique and extremely interesting how you planned your research to build up to a natural phenomena and I am glad the skies were clear in Charleston for you to get a good view of the eclipse. (I watched from my home in Pennsylvania and spent most of the day looking at clouds) It is also very cool that you were able to ask Mr. Young some questions about the scientific significance of the total eclipse and I would be interested to hear more details about your conversation with him.

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