Look up in the sky

April 12, 2024


Bowls filled with Milky Ways, Moon Pies, and Star Crunch bars were part of the fun as UR students, faculty, and staff came together to watch the April 8 solar eclipse, which achieved totality in a wide swath across North America.

A total solar eclipse is a rare event, in which the moon passes between the Earth and the sun and temporarily blocks the sun.

A clear sky enabled excellent viewing of the eclipse, which achieved about 83% totality in Richmond at 3:18 p.m. The Society of Physics Students and the geography, environment, and sustainability department handed out eclipse glasses and treats to the large crowds at the Forum and the Weinstein International Center.

Some in the crowd took photos, using protective filters over their phones. Others held out sheets of paper with holes in them in the sunlight, casting miniature eclipses on the pavement. As the eclipse neared, the sky darkened, and the event caused strange shadows to appear on the ground. On the Forum, students could get a close look at the celestial wonder through a telescope.

“Having our professors walking around with different polarizers and equipment was great, and I learned more about eclipses from having them there,” said Kate Sautel, treasurer of the society, which also handed out eclipse-themed cookies. “It was exciting to see so many students gathered in the middle of a busy school day to appreciate science and nature together.”

Physics professor Jack Singal provided his students with viewing glasses, and everyone met outside to watch the eclipse. Matt Trawick, physics department chair, handed out pinhole cameras and explained how they worked to his first-year seminar students.

“The crowd was huge,” said Eric Neuhaus, the society’s president. "I wish I had ordered more glasses because we ran out at the very start. Luckily, we were able to improvise with lenses and the telescope, and the eclipse lasted long enough for groups of people to pass around viewing glasses. I saw many students, faculty, and families looking up at the sky in fascination.”

It was Neuhaus’ first time to see an eclipse. “It was a really cool experience and I enjoyed being able to witness it with my friends and professors,” he said.

The next total solar eclipse that can be seen from the contiguous United States will take place on Aug. 23, 2044.