Solar Eclipse Wows Museum Crowd

The smog was thin yesterday, leaving the Oquirrh Mountains and the Salt Lake Valley visible to the crowd on the terrace of the Natural History Museum of Utah. But the crowd ignored that panorama to stare into a partial solar eclipse.

Tabitha Buehler, a professor in the U’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said during the eclipse that “from our view, the moon is almost in line with the face of the sun.” How much of the sun is covered depends on where you are on the planet. If you were in New England, for example, you wouldn’t see the moon in front of the sun at all. What you would see in New England, Buehler said, is the new moon — when the moon is unseen and dark because no light is reflecting off of it from the sun.

Eclipses happen because the path the Earth is orbiting the sun and the path the moon is orbiting the Earth are at approximately a five-degree tilt from one another. Sometimes, the two orbits line up completely, and you get a complete solar eclipse.

“It’s not a once in a lifetime event, but it is very exciting,” Buehler said.

Bella Brewer, along with elementary school classmates Xochi Stensas and Gogio Stensas, were told about the event by their sixth grade science teacher. Brewer said the partial solar eclipse “looks like a cartoon moon.”

Besides the telescopes and sunglasses to view the eclipse, the viewing party at the NHMU featured arts and crafts for all age groups and booths with explanations of the eclipse.

Joseph Broadhead, Josh Brenkmann and Chris Whetton, all first-year graduate students in physical therapy, attended the event. None of them have seen a partial solar eclipse before and appreciated the museum’s viewing party for giving them the opportunity.

“If you didn’t have the glasses, you wouldn’t know what’s going on,” Brenkmann said.

The three said this event gave them the motivation to go out of their way for the next complete solar eclipse, which will occur in Utah in August 2017.

“When I have kids someday, and they’re learning about eclipses in school, I’ll be able to tell them I saw it,” Broadhead said.

Buehler said that kind of excitement is palpable during events like these. Similar events include the U’s Physics and Astronomy Department’s National Astronomy Day party. The department also holds free public star parties every Wednesday in the South Physics Building, if the sky is clear enough.

“My goal,” Buehler said, “is to have people to look up in the sky.”

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