Villanova astronomy professor gears up for solar eclipse – Main Line

Radnor >> On Monday, Aug. 21 a full solar eclipse when the moon blocks the view of the sun will sweep across the United States. Residents in the Philadelphia area will be treated to a 75 percent partial eclipse.

Among those who are eagerly anticipating the eclipse is Villanova University Astronomy Professor Edward Guinan, who plans to travel to Nebraska, where he has relatives, to see the full solar eclipse. This will mark the fifth total solar eclipse that the veteran professor, who has taught at VU for 47 years, has observed.

The really big deal is to see a total one, said Guinan, who is known internationally as an astrophysics expert in solar activity and flares. Over the years, hes journeyed to North Carolina (1970), Turkey (2006), Romania (1999) and Nova Scotia (1972) the latter eclipse made famous in the Carly Simon song, Youre So Vain. He recalled that eclipse as being a particularly beautiful event that he watched from a beach.

This one is convenient, said Guinan. It goes right across the U.S. A lot of my students havent seen any (eclipses).

The total eclipse is just amazing, said Guinan. It gets pretty dark. The stars come out. Birds roost. It only lasts a few minutes. Of course, you can get clouded out and then it just gets dark.

With satellites now circling the planet, eclipses are not as scientifically valuable as they were in earlier times but the phenomenon still yields scientific information. In the past, the 1919 solar eclipse proved the general theory of relativity posited by Albert Einstein, that mass bends space and time. Also, during an 1867 eclipse scientists discovered the then unknown element Helium.

While in Nebraska, Guinan plans to fly drones to look at the shadow created by the eclipse and also take part with a nationwide group of scientists taking pictures of the magnetic streamers in the suns corona that are visible during the 2 minute totality as the eclipse travels across the United States. During this time, bright stars can be seen and planets like Mercury, Mars and Jupiter. When previous eclipses occurred, the solar corona has been shown to be 2 to 3 million degrees. Since light from the corona is about 1 millionth as bright as the surface of the sun, it can only been seen from the Earth during a total eclipse.

Guinan emphasized how dangerous it is to look directly at the sun during the eclipse and warns people against that. People can see the eclipse safely with special glasses or by using a pinhole in a cardboard to project the suns image onto a paper. Also, its safe to use solar telescopes or solar binoculars or those instruments with approved solar filters. Otherwise, staring at the sun to view the eclipse can cause blindness, he said.

Astronomers have been able to predict eclipses since ancient times and people told various myths to explain the phenomenon, such as that a monster was trying to eat the sun. In ancient China, a ruler once ordered two astronomers to be beheaded when they failed to predict an eclipse. It was the ancient Greeks who figured out the mathematics involved when the earth, moon and sun line up on the same plane causing an eclipse, he said.

If the weather cooperates on Aug. 21, the eclipse should be visible between 1:20 p.m. and 4 p.m. At 2:44 p.m., 75 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. Meanwhile, Villanovas Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science will host a Solar Eclipse Open House for University faculty, students and staff.

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Villanova astronomy professor gears up for solar eclipse – Main Line

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