ECLIPSE 2017: RC Students Serve as Eclipse Ambassadors in Smoky Mountain National Park

by robb on August 24, 2017

An adventurous group of Roanoke students and guests, as well as two Roanoke physics professors (Matt Fleenor and Dan Robb) took a trip to western North Carolina for the weekend of Aug. 19-21, culminating in an observation of the eclipse within the path of totality.  The end goal was to serve as the science ambassadors for the public viewing of the eclipse at the primary southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Roanoke’s website has a preview of the trip here:
The Roanoke students making the trip were David Matheny, Andre Schneider, Eve Allen, Khenan Terry, Claire Drummond, and recent physics graduate Jacob Barfield. The pictures below show the entire Roanoke group including a number of friends and guests; Khenan, Eve’s fiance, Eve, and Jacob with the observing equipment in the background; and Dr. Robb’s beagle Ronnie before the eclipse trying on his eclipse glasses.
After rafting and tubing and enjoying the outdoors for the first two days of the trip, on the big day Aug. 21, the RC students led by David Matheny and Dr. Fleenor set up a bank of six Celestron telescopes with solar filters at the Oconaluftee visitor center to the National Park. The students observed the total eclipse through the telescopes, assisted many members of the public in using the telescopes to appreciate the experience more fully, and informed the public about different phenomena related to the eclipse.
Several students (David Matheny and Jacob Barfield) captured vivid images of the eclipse at totality, which are shown above. The first picture is David Matheny’s picture of the Sun and its corona taken through one of the telescopes; the second is David’s picture of the Sun with a filter on the telescope (blocking the corona, but showing interesting surface features of the sun, such as solar flares); the third picture is Jacob’s picture of the Sun with corona taken with his cell phone camera. Two other interesting phenomena captured by the students were the mysterious “shadow bands” which appear just before and after totality (visible if you really really squint at the white sheet in the first picture below, but clearly visible in person), and the temperature drop as the amount of sunlight decreased as the moon gradually covered the Sun, recorded in the chart in the second picture.
All in all, a great time was had by all, and the students were able to gain valuable experience in communicating exciting science and astronomy to the public.