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Welcome Back: Rare eclipse greets students at FGCU

Welcome Back: Rare eclipse greets students at FGCU
(Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

The first day of this school year saw masses of students gathered between Whitaker Hall and Merwin Hall around 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon to grab a pair of special glasses and watch the rare solar eclipse in a very unique first day of the Fall semester.

“It’s just super exciting. I’ve been dying to see it,” Environmental Science major Madison Stevens said. “I literally went to six stores yesterday to find these glasses.”

According to NASA, the last total solar eclipse observed in the contiguous United States was in 1979 – almost 38 years ago.

Jaclyn Chastain, executive secretary for the office of undergraduate studies and office manager for the office of undergrad scholarships, in conjunction with the Whitaker Center and the Chemistry, Physics and Engineering departments, provided students with 100 eclipse glasses to enjoy the show.

Chastain, along with student volunteers and faculty members, set up a table in the breezeway replete with educational brochures, a TV live-streaming the eclipse and two telescopes.

“It’s to give everyone from any background an experience to view the natural phenomenon and hopefully get them interested in the sciences behind it,” volunteer and Biology major Kai Sacco said. “As we observe what is going on, there is science that makes it even more interesting.”

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the earth and the sun, casting a shadow onto parts of the earth.

According to FGCU Physics professor Jeffery Hutchinson, when the moon moves around the earth it casts a tilted shadow on the earth’s surface. The moon circles the earth on a tilt relative to the sun and the earth’s plane. So, even if the moon is directed toward the sun, it never crosses it, Hutchinson said.

According to Hutchinson, solar eclipses aren’t uncommon, with as many as two to five occurring in a single year.  What is uncommon, however, is a total solar eclipse because the regions totally blocked by the moon are much smaller than the regions that are partially blocked.

Places like Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina observed a total eclipse, whereas Fort Myers witnessed about 78 percent of the eclipse, according to Hutchinson.

So why do you need those eclipse glasses? Hutchinson said it’s very simple: the sun is too bright.

“Imagine a magnifying glass, like if you ever tried to burn an ant or a little piece of road or melt something. That’s literally the same thing that is happening in your eye,” Hutchinson said. “As you can tell, it gets so concentrated that you can actually burn your retina.”

According to Hutchinson, your eye will naturally try to prevent from burning by constricting the pupils, but if you glance right into the sun, your eyes sometimes don’t have enough time to react.

“Even if the sun is 90 percent covered, it turns out that that’s plenty bright to burn your eye,” Hutchinson said. “So, it’s basically the same lesson as always, which is never look at the sun.”

While the eclipse glasses helped protect students’ eyes, the event’s organizers also wanted to take care of the planet.

“We really wanted this to relate to FGCU’s sustainability efforts as well,” Chastain said. “So, encouraging people to recycle and reuse didn’t seem like a big deal to us.”

The unusual eclipse and big crowds drew awe from Chastain, but it was students’ hunger to learn that left the biggest impression on her.

“It exceeded expectations,” Chastain said. “I was very happy with the students that came in. They not only wanted to see the eclipse but a lot of them wanted to learn about the science behind it.”

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