Williams College Astronomer and Other Scientists Prepare for the Great American Eclipse of August 21

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine @williams.edu

Astronomer contact: eclipse @williams .edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., January 7, 2017—Astronomer Jay Pasachoff is busy exciting people about their chance to experience the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse, whose path of totality will sweep across the United States from coast to coast. He is leading an international team of astronomers in preparing scientific observations to study the sun’s outer layer, the solar corona, and also the effect of the eclipse on the Earth’s atmosphere. To attendees of the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Grapevine, Texas, this week, Pasachoff presented a paper about scientific observations of solar eclipses and a second paper about matters of outreach and education at all levels relevant to the eclipse. He also participated in a splinter session on eclipse preparations and in a science-writer’s seminar.

Pasachoff tries to bring across to the general public how exciting it is to be outdoors in the path of totality of a solar eclipse. He stresses that “being even 10 or 100 miles outside the path is like being outside a football stadium, technically ‘at the stadium’ but actually missing seeing the main event.” He would like to convince 300 million Americans from all over the country to join the 12 million people who live within the path of totality for the 2 or so minutes of totality on August 21. (An additional 76 million people live within a 200-mile drive of the path, according to map-maker Michael Zeiler of Santa Fe.)

In a talk Pasachoff delivered to science writers on Saturday, August 7, he described a variety of professional efforts scheduled to observe the eclipse. His own group includes scientists from Slovakia, Greece, and Australia in addition to students and colleagues from the United States. They will study the dynamics of the solar corona and study the frequency of oscillations as seen through special coronal filters, part of testing models of how the corona is heated to millions of degrees. They are linking the shape of the corona, held in place by the magnetic field, to the phase of the sunspot cycle, with potential implications for the next cycle. Prof. Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii observes with an international group she calls the Solar Eclipse Sherpas. They use a set of filters in visible and infrared light to study the shape of the corona and its polarization, which reveals the orientation of the solar magnetic field. Prof. Alexander Kosovichev of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, working with Dr. Serge Koutchmy of the Institut of Astrophysics of Paris, also plans to study coronal polarization. Koutchmy has special methods for high-contrast and high-resolution processing of coronal images. Many eclipse astronomers work with the image-processing skills of Prof. Miloslav Druckmuller of Brno, Czech Republic.

Prof. Hugh Hudson and Laura Peticolas of the Space Science Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, are heading a Megamovie project to use thousands of images taken by members of the general public, so-called citizen scientists, to provide an animation of variations in images over the 90 minutes that the Moon’s shadow will take to cross the continental United States. In a separate citizen-science plan, Dr. Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory is planning a Citizen Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Experiment (Citizen CATE), with 60 identical solar telescopes spaced across the path of totality to make an animation of highly calibrated identical images to show coronal dynamics.

A National Science Foundation plane will travel at high altitude to study coronal spectra in the infrared, in a plan led by Drs. Leon Golub and Ed DeLuca of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, with graduate-student Jenna Samra.

Other scientists planning research during totality include Dr. Ulyana Dyudina of Caltech, who is planning to use a new light-sensitive chip that measures polarization pixel-by-pixel; Prof. Brad Schaefer of Louisiana State University, who plans a new version of the light-bending experiment that tested relativity and made Einstein famous; and Prof. Thanasis Economou of the University of Chicago, who plans to make spectra during the eclipse of the solar corona and solar chromosphere, the colorful atmospheric level between the everyday solar surface and the hot corona.


Pasachoff has seen more solar eclipses than anyone ever: the August 21 solar will be his 66th solar eclipse and his 34th total eclipse. He is Chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses, a joint Working Group of the Solar and the Education/Outreach/Heritage commissions. He is also a member of the Eclipse 2017 Task Force of the American Astronomical Society. Pasachoff is Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College.

His scientific observations at the 2017 total eclipse are sponsored by the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society and the Solar Terrestrial Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation. In addition to his research, he has long worked to spread information about how wonderful it is to observe a total eclipse and how to observe it safely. He is giving papers on such subjects this year not only at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Texas but also at the American Physical Society meeting in Washington, DC, on January 31, and at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in Atlanta on February 19, where he is receiving the society’s Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award. He has arranged a session on the eclipse at the meeting in Boston on February 17 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also speaking at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh on January 29, and the Southern Star event for amateur astronomers at Wildacres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, NC, for Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club on April 29/30. He is arranging an exhibition on eclipse-related art and artifacts at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, for June through August. He is completing articles on the Sun and the eclipse for Scientific American and Nature Astronomy, in addition to providing a Resource Letter on Solar Eclipses for the American Journal of Physics.

Pasachoff is coauthor, with Leon Golub, of a popular book about the Sun: Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun, and of a technical book, The Solar Corona. The books will be assigned as part of the reading of a spring-semester course he is giving at Williams College on solar physics, in which the students will have the opportunity to prepare for eclipse observing and to accompany the research team to the eclipse itself. Pasachoff and Golub have prepared a new book, The Sun, for the Science Museum, London, to be published in June. The latest printing of his Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets contains two dozen pages about eclipse observing. Pasachoff is working with PBS’s NOVA to prepare a television show to air two nights after the eclipse.


At the 229th American Astronomical Society meeting, Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, Grapevine, TX:

Thursday, January 5, splinter session, Education and Outreach, organized by Dr. Andrew Fraknoi, 10:00-11:30, San Antonio room 1, Gaylord Texan

Friday, January 6, Jay M. Pasachoff, Daniel B. Seaton, and Vojtech Rusin, 2017, “The solar corona through the sunspot cycle: preparing for the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse,” 229th AAS, January, Grapevine, TX, 325.02, 2:10-2:20, Texas 3

Jay M. Pasachoff, 2017, “Educating the Public about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse,” 229th AAS, January, Grapevine, TX, 411.03, 10:20-10:30, Dallas 6

Saturday, 7 January, 2:15-2:25, “Yes, You Can Still Do Science During Solar Eclipses,” in the Seminar for Science Writers: The August 2017 All-American Solar Eclipse, organized by Dr. Rick Fienberg, Austin 5

Contact information for Jay Pasachoff: [email protected]

His books are listed at http://solarcorona.com and his past eclipse expeditions are linked at http://totalsolareclipse.org. His website for the International Astronomical Union is at http://eclipses.info

previous press release, about the 2015 eclipse observed from Svalbard:

Williams College Team Observes Solar Eclipse in Svalbard


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,200 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.