Eclipse at Stonehill

August 28, 2017


Last week's Solar Eclipse captivated the entire nation, and although Stonehill didn't see a "full eclipse," that didn't stop students, faculty, staff and community members from taking in the event on campus.

Ahead of the event, professor of associate professor of physics Alessandro Massarotti offered a description of the eclipse process and some context for the event.

When Do Solar Eclipses Happen?

Solar eclipses happen when the Moon finds itself between the Earth and the Sun, in other words, they take place at the 'New Moon' phase. Since the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not exactly on the same plane as that of the Earth around the Sun, eclipses don't happen at every New Moon. Most times, the Moon will be just below or above the Sun, not right in front of it.

What is a "total eclipse" and why are they important?

Solar eclipses are not that rare, but the area of the planet where the total eclipse is visible is quite small. This is because the Moon has a similar angular size as the Sun. In other words, it appears roughly the same size as the Sun to an Earth observer. If one moves only several miles during an eclipse, the Moon will not cover the Sun completely any longer. The thin stripe on the ground where the total eclipses occur is small in area, making the viewing of an eclipse a rare occurrence at any given location.

What makes the Aug. 21 Eclipse Special?

This particular eclipse is special, because it crosses the entire country, and this is a rare occurrence. The last time it happened in New England was on August 31, 1932. The duration of totality depends on your location. At the center of the stripe of totality and around St. Louis it should be a couple of minutes. During a total solar eclipse, you can see the stars even close to the Sun, and you should see a sky darker closer to the Sun than toward the horizon. It must be a spectacle for those who are lucky enough to be along the thin stripe where totality will occur, crossing the country from Oregon to Wyoming to Tennessee to South Carolina.

The next total solar eclipse in our neighborhood will be on April 8th 2024, with totality in NH, VT NY.

To hear more about Stonehill's Physics & Astronomy Department, where you can learn about eclipses and much, much more, visit: http://www.stonehill.edu/academics/areas-of-study/physics-astronomy/