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Solar Eclipse 2017: Faculty weigh in on how, where to watch

  • Picture of GVSU student and faculty member stargazing

Posted on August 16, 2017

On Monday, August 21, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun, and anyone within the “path of totality” will be able to see a rare total solar eclipse.

The total eclipse path, called the corona, will stretch from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Those outside of this path, like those in Michigan, will see a partial solar eclipse.

Ross Reynolds, professor of physics at Grand Valley State University, said that the Grand Rapids area will see the maximum amount of coverage (81 percent) around 2:20 p.m. Reynolds added that at the maximum coverage time in Michigan, the planet Venus may be visible about one-third of the way between the sun and the western horizon.

Reynolds explained that safety should be a top priority for eclipse enthusiasts. When watching the eclipse, it is most important to avoid looking directly at the sun without proper protection, such as special-purpose solar filter “eclipse glasses” or handheld solar viewers. Homemade filters and ordinary sunglasses are not safe for looking at the sun.

Reynolds said that another safe way to view the eclipse is to make a “pinhole projector” by poking a hole into a piece of cardboard or an index card. Then, hold the card approximately three feet above a surface area to project an image of the sun as the moon passes by it.

Regional Math and Science Center staff will be distributing pinhole projectors, while supplies last, at three locations on the Allendale Campus from 10-11:30 a.m. on August 21. These locations include outside of The Connection, at the RMSC office located in Mackinac Hall (room C-1-120), and outside of Mackinac Hall near the Copeland Hall Living Center.

No matter where someone watches the eclipse in Michigan, Reynolds said all areas of the state will have similar views.

"The further south and west, the more complete the eclipse will be, but the best will only be a bit more at 85 percent down on the border near Michigan City and the worst will be around 70 percent in the Upper Peninsula," he said. "As the eclipse will happen around 2 p.m., the sun will be high in the sky so there is no need to look for big open spaces with low horizons because anywhere without clouds will do."

NASA’s live stream of the eclipse will also be available to watch in the RMSC office, and in the Learning Alcove of the Mary Idema Pew Library. 

Faculty members from Grand Valley’s Physics Department will be partnering with the Grand Rapids Public Museum for the museum’s Eclipse Party. Faculty will be on-hand to facilitate a variety of activities for both children and adults. The Eclipse party will take place from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on August 21 at the museum, complete with telescopes equipped with solar filters, tracking devices that can track the sun during the eclipse, and multiple hands-on activities that illustrate eclipses and the sun-moon-Earth system.

According to NASA, the last total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. coast-to-coast occurred in 1918, and the next total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. won’t occur until 2024.

While this eclipse will be noted in the history books, Reynolds said that, among physicists, the most “famous” eclipse occurred in 1919.

“During the 1919 eclipse, Sir Arthur Eddington made observations of stellar positions and was able to show that the positions were displaced by an amount predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity,” Reynolds explained. “It was seen as the first test of that theory.”