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College's observation deck will be open for Aug. 21 solar eclipse

Barry McNamara
07/20/2017
The path of totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse passes close to, but not through, western Illinois
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Individuals in the Monmouth-Warren County area will see about 90 percent of the sun covered during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, and they are invited to observe the historic occasion at Monmouth College.

The observation deck of the College’s Center for Science and Business will be open to observe the eclipse through an eight-inch telescope.

Viewing times for Aug. 21 will be posted closer to the date on the College’s Adolphson Observatory Facebook page (facebook.com/AdolphsonObservatory). The eclipse will begin shortly before noon Central time in Monmouth, peak a few minutes after 1 p.m. and conclude around 2:30 p.m.

Monmouth physics professor Chris Fasano said the eclipse “won’t be total here.”

“We’re a little too far away,” he said. “But it will be about 90 percent. It just won’t be completely dark, like it will be in the region of totality.”

While Fasano stays in Monmouth on Aug. 21, colleague Ashwani Kumar will accompany students in his Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity (SOFIA) program to a spot in the path of the total eclipse swath – either Carbondale, Ill., or the St. Louis area. The eclipse will move southeast across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, making it the first time an eclipse has crossed the entire country in 99 years.

“You have to be in the right place at the right time to see it as a total eclipse,” said Kumar, who is also a physics professor at the College.

Although total solar eclipses happen somewhere on Earth once about every 18 months, their occurrence in a specific place is much rarer. This will be the first time a total solar eclipse has occurred in St. Louis since 1442. It won’t be until 2505 when the city experiences another one.

As darkness falls in the region of totality, temperatures may drop more than 10 degrees, stars and planets will be visible and farm animals may even head toward their barn.

In addition to observing the rare event in the daytime sky, Kumar’s three SOFIA students will spend three weeks in August learning how to do space photography with the College’s 20-inch Trubeck Telescope and how to look for asteroids.

“We’re interested in looking for any objects passing close to Earth,” said Kumar. “Believe it or not, there are many objects that amateurs report, because even though scientists are constantly looking for such objects, you can’t see the whole sky with the precision necessary to see everything.”

Fasano said the College’s smaller telescope is being used to observe the eclipse instead of the Trubeck Telescope for a couple of reasons.

“Our eight-inch scope has a solar filter, so that will make viewing the sun completely safe,” he said. “Also, the 20-inch scope gathers in so much light, it’s absurd. When we look at the moon, it’s very, very bright.”

Fasano said that eclipses provide “an excellent opportunity to see what’s happening on the surface of the sun, such as solar flares, although the sun’s pretty quiet right now.”

Fasano joked that he’s “taking one for the team” by not traveling south with Kumar and the Monmouth students to see the total eclipse.

“There’s a Peanuts cartoon with Linus standing in the rain on the day of an eclipse,” said Fasano. “That pretty much sums up my luck with these kinds of things.”