The Eclipse at Georgia Tech
On the first day of classes of the fall semester, Georgia Tech students, faculty, staff, and members of the community gathered on Tech Green to witness the Great American Eclipse.
The College of Sciences handed out solar eclipse glasses and provided celestial-themed entertainment in an event that culminated in the viewing of a 97-percent coverage of the sun at 2:36 p.m. More than 2,800 Yellow Jacket freshmen began their college careers gazing skyward.
Reflections from Researchers
Georgia Tech faculty members who study the sun, planets, and beyond fanned out across the country to see the eclipse with their own eyes. No experiments. No science motives. They simply looked to the heavens, most of them with family, to witness their first total eclipse.
Jim Sowell oversees the Georgia Tech observatory. He left Atlanta on Sunday, bound for Northeast Georgia, hoping to glimpse the magic of totality.
Would I get to see it? Since having taken my first astronomy course some 40 years ago, seeing a total eclipse of the sun was probably the number one item on my astronomical bucket list. But the inconvenience in the dates, the need to travel to distant locales, and the high cost always prevented me. For a couple of years, though, the Great American Eclipse has been on my mind.
College of Sciences Dean Paul Goldbart, the college’s communications director Maureen Rouhi, and I met in early January to discuss plans for the Georgia Tech community. I spoke to K-12, college students, and senior citizen groups about the coming event. I was interviewed for television, radio, and print media. I gave out close to 1,000 eye-safe glasses to those who so desperately wanted to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event.
But would I actually see it myself? I was getting excited a couple of days before the event. The morning of the eclipse, while at a secluded spot on Lake Hartwell with my wife, oldest son, and a few close friends, I saw clear blue skies until the eclipse began. Then the clouds appeared. But 10 minutes before totality began, they dissipated.
I felt the temperature continue to decrease, causing a slight breeze. The color of the reduced sunlight light made me think that the rocks and sand where I was sitting reminded me of photos of the Martian surface.
And then I saw it! I was unprepared for the beauty. I took the glasses off in time to see the diamond ring — three triangular streamers and a bright ring. I heard friends squealing, but I just stared at the stunningly delightful view of the sun and moon. Then Venus joined the scene.
Two minutes went by quickly, and suddenly another diamond ring appeared. The color and brightness of the light changed dramatically. It was over, but I had seen it, and I gave a short prayer of thanks for both the experience of the moment and the end of a long, successful quest.
Diamond Ring effect from Northeast Georgia (Photo: Zonglin "Jack" Li, civil engineering student)