SIU to host major solar eclipse workshop in June

May 17, 2016

SIU to host major solar eclipse workshop in June

by Tim Crosby

Solar Eclipse Crossroads of America Poster

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A total solar eclipse that will center on Southern Illinois is still more than a year away, but in astronomical terms that’s only a blink of an eye.

So with this huge event drawing near, Southern Illinois University Carbondale next month will play host to major workshop that invites the general public to mix with and listen to some of the country’s leading solar scientists and amateur sky-watchers. In the process, they will learn more about how to appreciate and enjoy this rare happening.

The American Astronomical Society will hold its Eclipse 2017 Workshop June 10-11. It will feature speakers from NASA, the National Solar Observatory and other organizations. Registration is required to attend, but a good portion of the program is free and open to the public. To learn more about, and to register for the conference, go here.

Bob Baer, specialist in the Department of Physics, said even if the names are not familiar to the public, people are most likely familiar with the work of many of the schedule speakers. For instance, Fred Espenak – known by his fans as “Mr. Eclipse” – conducts eclipse timing predictions for NASA and runs the site eclipsewise.com, which is popular among buffs, Baer said. Xavier Jubier is the top Google interactive eclipse mapmaker that show where the sun will be blotted out in totality, among other things.

“If you’re using a map with a geolocation tool to find amounts of totality for your location, it’s probably Xavier’s map,” Baer said.

Michael Zeiler runs the site GreatAmericanEclipse.com and creates highly detailed, printable eclipse maps, Baer said. Another highlight will be Michelle Nichols, master educator at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, who will run a workshop promoting simple sun- and moon-related activities for families using common household materials.

Another huge highlight is the much-anticipated announcement from NASA on how it intends to cover the eclipse, as well as how those plans may impact SIU and the region. Both the NASA Eclipse 2017 group and NASA Edge – a video podcast that focuses on missions, technologies and space-related events involving the space agency – will send representatives to the workshop where they will discuss plans for their eclipse 2017 coverage from the SIU campus, Baer said. Officials say NASA likely will reach a huge global audience with its coverage.

The Adler Planetarium personnel also will be on hand to discuss some of that institution’s plans for partnering with SIU in eclipse programming and events.

The first day of the two-day conference generally will include the most public-friendly information that will be useful but mostly non-technical in nature. The second day is open to the public, as well, though registration is required and the talks will contain more technical information.

“For anyone wanting to just watch the eclipse on their own, maybe as a home school group, with a church group, or just with your own family, this is a great workshop to attend and find out how to do that safely,” Baer said. “We have laid out the program such that we have some specialized talks running opposite more generalized workshops and vice versa so people can tailor their day to their own needs.”

The official poster for the event, along with matching eclipse glasses, also will be for sale at the conference and can be ordered when registering. Tyler Nordgren, the artist who created the poster and professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Redlands, will be on hand to sign the posters, as well.

SIU is gearing up to play a major role in the Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse, which will feature the first total solar eclipse over the mainland United States since 1979. The eclipse viewing path and shadow that day will sweep across the country from northwest to southeast, with its point of greatest duration a few miles south of Carbondale. Officials expect some 30,000 to 50,000 people to descend on the area for the happening. The university’s planning, led by a campus-community committee, has been underway for more than a year.

Not only that, but a second such event is due on April 8, 2024. The intersection of the two eclipse paths is just south of Carbondale over Cedar Lake. No other place in the world will offer the opportunity to observe these two eclipses from the same ground-based spot.

Cinnamon Wheeles-Smith, executive director of Carbondale Tourism, said the impact will be felt strongly throughout Southern Illinois. As the first eclipse draws nearer, her office is fielding increasing numbers of calls from people seeking information about the event.

“The eclipse will affect 15 Illinois counties as it passes through, so we are all going to feel it,” she said.

Following the AAS conference at SIU, Wheeles-Smith said her office, along with the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, will begin holding public meetings looking at how the community and local businesses can prepare for the events. Southern Illinois Economic Development is also planning such a meeting looking at how the area can leverage the event. That meeting is set for June 14 at John A. Logan College.

The conference at SIU will be one in a series of such events the AAS is holding along the path of the eclipse. Baer said the organization and the university are hoping it will raise awareness in a broad segment of the local population.

“Because we are so close to the eclipse now, just over a year, we are going to start focusing on more timely information in this workshop and get into details for different groups such as teachers, communities, the tourism industry, and regional planners,” Baer said. “However, we will have a lot of basic information on how people can just enjoy watching the eclipse.”

The second day of the conference will include scientific talks and discussions on the Citizen CATE Experiment (Continental America Telescopic Eclipse). The effort will see SIU cooperate with about 60 other teams recording the eclipse as it traverses the United States. The National Solar Observatory will use the data collected to assemble a visual record of the total eclipse, in an attempt to capture elusive, moving pictures of the sun’s corona, which is usually obscured by the sun’s brightness.

Matt Penn, associate astronomer at the NSO, along with Baer and retired SIU faculty member Fred Isberner, will talk about the project and their roles in it during the Citizen CATE workshop.

“The workshop is intended for current or potential volunteer observers for the Citizen CATE Experiment,” Baer said. “The hands-on portion of the workshop will be a group solar observation using the CATE prototype telescope that will be used to observe the 2017 eclipse.  In addition to the public portions, there will be closed discussion sessions for conference participants only.”

Cost to attend the full conference, including all closed sessions and dinners, is $180 and $80 for students. Members of the general public are invited to attend all open sessions free of charge, but should register in advance. Snacks will be available for those attending.