A wave of excitement came over a crowd gathered on the Scandling Patio at Hobart and William Smith as a partial solar eclipse overtook the Geneva N.Y. sky on Monday, Aug. 21. Assistant Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb and Associate Professor of Geoscience David Kendrick guided students, faculty, staff and community members through the event with specially-equipped telescopes, binoculars, eclipse glasses and homemade pin hole viewers as 75% of the moon covered the sun, causing daylight to dim noticeably and the temperature to drop several degrees.
“I think people get excited about eclipses because it gives them a chance to feel connected to something larger than themselves,” said Hebb fielding questions during the event. “For a moment, people wonder how their lives are connected to the presence of stars in the universe.”
Along with families of faculty and staff, also in attendance were many community members including 30 children from the Geneva YMCA who built pinhole viewers with cardboard boxes and tubes that allowed them to safely watch the shadow of the moon crossing the sun. Another model for viewing the eclipse was created at the event by Hebb and one of her research assistants, Jonas Toupal ’18. It was a similar telescope to one that Galileo would have used consisting of a convex lens and a concave lens which when fixed in a line along a long ruler and pointed at the sun, showed a magnified image of the eclipsed sun displayed on a white poster board.
“We wanted to be available to answer questions about why this phenomenon happens at all, explain the differences between a partial and total eclipse, and share some insights into what scientific value has come from viewing of eclipses,” said Kendrick. “Even so, maybe the most important part was to be able to share the excitement and interest that any human being would experience as these two bodies in the sky interact in a rare and fascinating way.”
Although there have been other total and partial eclipses in the Finger Lakes Region in previous decades, the last total eclipse to pass coast to coast across the United States, like this Monday’s, took place on June 8, 1918. On that day, HWS was in the midst of end-of-the-year exercises, as students came together to attend the Baccalaureate Ceremony. At the time, William Smith College was celebrating the 10th anniversary of opening its doors to educate women. The next solar eclipse for Geneva, N.Y. in expected to cross over the sky on 2024.