To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Prof. Seth Fraden speaks about the upcoming eclipse

On March 19, Professor Seth Fraden (PHYS) PhD ’87 spoke with The Hoot about the upcoming eclipse. Highlights of the conversation included Professor Fraden’s description of the free eclipse glasses he’s giving away to students and his explanation of what eclipse viewers in different locations can expect to see. There will be a total solar eclipse on Apr. 8, with the path of totality passing through nearby Burlington, Vermont. Some students plan to travel to Vermont for a better view of the phenomenon, and there are even organized trips taking place. Fraden added that Brandeis will be receiving 93% eclipse totality at 3:29 p.m., but that the event will not be very significant if viewed from campus.

Speaking on the glasses, Fraden mentioned that he had hundreds of glasses printed, and is giving them away to Brandeis students. He said that “the glasses are free, but the price is that I want a photograph of you and your crew wearing them on April 8th to Trent Parker [trentparker@brandeis.edu],” the Department Coordinator for Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

Beginning his interview with The Hoot, Fraden described exactly what an eclipse is. He noted that one occurs “at the moments of the vernal equinox and the autumnal equinox, when the days are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. … So, if you didn’t move at all, let’s say you were a tree, then maybe once every thousand years you would experience an eclipse … because it’s more or less random where the shadow of the moon passes across the surface of the earth. But if you budge a little bit, if you’re a little more mobile than a tree, then about once every a hundred years you’ll have an eclipse nearby. And these days with air travel, I’ve seen three eclipses in my 66-year life. So I go about once every 20 years.”

He also explained that, despite being in 93% totality, Brandeis’ campus won’t experience nearly the same effects that locations within the 100% path of totality will, “it’s a qualitatively different experience,” he explained. At Brandeis, students can expect to feel a slight drop in temperature and a slightly dimmer sky, “but you won’t really be able to put your finger on what is happening.” But Fraden noted that “if you proceed to the path of totality in Burlington, the experience is completely different.”

For the best viewing experience, he added, “you need to get up on top of a mountain. … Let’s say you can see, you know, 10 miles, 20 miles. … you might have 20 seconds to see the shadow of the moon. And on a bright summer day, sometimes you experience the cumulonimbus clouds passing between the ground and the sun, and a dark shadow crosses kind of fleetingly across you. So it’s similar to that, except imagine a shadow that stretches from the northern horizon to the southern [horizon], from the ground to the sky. It’s a wall of darkness hurtling at you at 2,000 miles an hour. You feel viscerally in your gut as this wall of darkness is rushing towards you and behind it are stars. It’s as if someone has taken the heavens and peeled them back revealing the stark darkness of the universe. So to see that, you need certain atmospherics: the scattering of light due to the particles in the air and the direction of the sun [needs to be just so]. … Now, normally at sunset, you often experience the golden glow of the setting sun in the west, and there might be 20 degrees of the horizon for which this occurs here. In contrast, during a total eclipse of the sun, that shadow surrounds you in 360 degrees.”

Fraden added that during the eclipse “the shadows are going to be very short. You have this eerie twilight that surrounds you in all directions as the shadow proceeds across the surface of the earth, these atmospherics will shift dramatically every 10 seconds or so. And so it’s very important not to just look at the sun and the corona, but to spend time scanning the entire horizon. Every 15 seconds or so, you should kind of slowly, uh, turn around and look in all directions as these atmospherics will change and reveal unexpected vistas.”

Students can pick up these glasses, which allow users to view an eclipse safely, by going to Parker’s office in Abelson 107. Professor Fraden will be holding an event on March 25 from 2:10 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall, where he’ll be giving away even more eclipse glasses and explaining how exactly eclipses work. The event can also be found on Zoom.

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