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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Activities & Organizations

Students witness passage of partial solar eclipse


The awaited solar eclipse passed over the Houston area with almost 70 percent coverage of the sun. | Greg Fails/The Cougar

The Houston area was able to witness 2.5 minutes of almost 70 percent coverage of the sun Monday as a total solar eclipse passed over the United States for the first time since 1979.

The Astronomy Society at UH and the Department of Physics provided viewing spaces on campus for the UH community. Tents with telescopes, hands-on models and safety goggles were set up near the Science and Research Building 1 and by the Student Center North.

“It was almost 40 years ago since something like this happened in the U.S., so it’s kind of a big deal,” said Andrew Renshaw, assistant professor of physics and faculty adviser for the event.

ASUH President Fre’Etta Brooks planned the event so students and the community could have their questions answered about the eclipse.

“We have prepared the site so people can just walk up and enjoy the event,” Brooks said. “At each tented location, we will have information to tell them what an eclipse is — what is it that has to happen in order for a solar eclipse to occur — because obviously we don’t have them every day.”

The UH Observatory was also opened for viewings and tours, and the public had the opportunity to watch the eclipse through the big telescope.

“In the observatory, we will be tracking the progression of the sun during the eclipse, and we will be streaming that footage down to the tents and on other screens,” Brooks said.

Students were already lining up outside the Astronomy Society’s blue tents to receive their safety-viewing goggles and converse about what they were going to witness when the eclipse began around 11:30 a.m.

“I looked up the hours for Houston, when it begins and ends, and the maximum light we’ll get,” said MIS and accounting sophomore Neethu Kurian. “You don’t know when you’ll see another one.”

ASUH Historian Dorian Delapena, who was one of the members working the tent between the Student Center North and the Classroom Business Building, said they had a huge turnout at the beginning of the event.

“People are pretty interested about what’s going on,” Delapena said. “There’s been random lines when it hasn’t even started.”

After the eclipse passed over Houston, students like accounting junior Xiomara Alzate said the viewing was something positive for the first day of school, and that it made her look forward to the upcoming year.

“I thought it was a great experience — the fact that UH has an observatory for student’s to be able to see something like this,” Alzate said. “I think it’s an incredible event to witness.”

While students on campus enjoyed the view of the eclipse from campus, a small group of students from the department of physics traveled to Nebraska to witness the solar eclipse with total coverage.

Renshaw said they will be doing measurements of the sun and the eclipse, and that they brought a film crew with them to create a documentary.

“They will have some documentary of this in the future that people will be able to view,” Renshaw said. “Then, of course, when they come back they will be able to tell everybody about the actual experiment that they did and the results that they get. So we can really anticipate something cool coming from that.”

Although solar eclipses are rare, there is confirmation of more in the future. There will be an annular eclipse in October 2023 and a total eclipse that will pass through the Dallas area in April 2024.

“So, while we haven’t had many eclipses in the recent past, in the near future — in the Houston area and around the next 10 years — we’re actually going to have a few that are going to be fantastic to view,” Renshaw said.

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