Heads up! University trains its eyes on upcoming solar eclipse

Heads up! University trains its eyes on upcoming solar eclipse
Livestreamed telescope views, watch areas part of education-oriented events

Michael Sibbernsen (right) and Hannah Paxton use the observatory atop the Stadium Parking Garage at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The university will use the observatory to record the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Michael Sibbernsen (right) and Hannah Paxton use the observatory atop the Stadium Parking Garage at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The university will use the observatory to record the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, faculty, staff and visitors have several ways to view and learn about the historic Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

Donde Plowman, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer at Nebraska, has encouraged instructors of all 270 classes scheduled to meet during the eclipse to briefly interrupt class so students can see the event.

"This is a great opportunity for faculty and students to witness together a rare moment -- one of the wonders of our universe," Plowman said. "It is an opportunity to increase everyone's knowledge about astronomy and to build community in our classrooms."

Students and others also will be able to observe the eclipse during a live stream to be featured on the university's homepage. Video from the 16-inch Cassegrain Reflector telescope at the student observatory atop the Stadium Drive parking garage will be streamed beginning when Lincoln first sees the moon start to pass in front of the sun at 11:37 a.m. Aug. 21. The livestream also will be available on the university's eclipse information page.

Beginning Aug. 18 and culminating on the day of the eclipse, a series of education-oriented events are planned to highlight science and to celebrate.

Students look at the sun using specialized glasses. The university will provide the glasses to students for the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.

The event is being billed as the "Great American Eclipse" because its path, for the first time since 1776, will be exclusively visible in the contiguous United States. Lincoln is among several Nebraska cities at or near the center of the eclipse path. At about 1:02 p.m. CDT on Aug. 21 and lasting for 1 minute and 24 seconds, the eclipse will reach totality, where the moon is directly blocking the sun.

University officials have been working with a number of Lincoln organizations to stage eclipse-related activities. Watch locations for students and others have been designated at the City Campus green space north of the Nebraska Union, the East Campus Loop and outside Haymarket Park, where a Lincoln Saltdogs baseball game will have an “eclipse delay” during the period of totality, when light from the sun is totally obscured.

A university-organized science fair, with interactive exhibits and activities, will begin at 11 a.m. outside the stadium. Though tickets are required to attend the game, the science fair is free.

Because watching an eclipse with the naked eye or ordinary sunglasses can damage eyesight, eclipse viewing glasses will be distributed from several central locations on both City Campus and East Campus on the day of the eclipse. The university is providing a limited number of eclipse glasses so students and faculty can protect their eyes while watching.

In an email to faculty, Plowman acknowledged that the first day of class is hectic with many tasks to be accomplished in a short time.

"Given the significance of this solar eclipse, I hope you will think of this as an opportunity to build community with your students ... by viewing this experience together," she wrote. "It will be fairly easy for most to step outside the building for the few minutes to view the eclipse."

Other related events and activities include:

  • Family "pre-party." University Libraries and the Lincoln Children’s Museum are co-hosting an Aug. 20 Solar Eclipse Pre-Party that will feature two SciPop talks -- “Football Physics” and “Comic Book Physics 101” -- and two interactive lessons -- “Potions of Harry Potter” and “Solar Eclipse Facts and Fun.” The family friendly event is 2 p.m. at the museum. Admission will be charged to non-museum members.

  • Behlen presentation. At 8 p.m. Aug. 18, Rebecca Harbison, an assistant professor of practice of physics and astronomy at Nebraska, will discuss the eclipse during a public viewing night at Behlen Observatory near Mead.

  • Live video for NASA. Students and faculty at Nebraska will conducting high-altitude balloon observations and experiments as part of a NASA-funded project to provide live video along the path of totality. Led by Michael Sibbernsen, a physics and astronomy lecturer, the balloons will be launched from the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island.

  • UCARE projects at Homestead. Landscape architecture students will take part in organizing events at the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, which is one of 13 NASA TV broadcast locations. Austin Arens, a third-year landscape architecture student, has helped draw maps for planning purposes and for guiding visitors to the event as part of an Undergraduate Creative Activity and Research Experience project. He also is organizing about 20 landscape architecture students to volunteer at Homestead. Landscape architecture faculty have canceled Aug. 21 classes to allow students to volunteer.

  • Planetarium presentations. On Aug. 18 and 19, Mueller Planetarium at the Nebraska State Museum will present “Earth, Moon and Sun” at 11 a.m. and “Eclipses and Phases of the Moon” at noon.

  • Advance public viewing nights. Hyde Memorial Observatory at Holmes Lake Park in Lincoln will hold a free public viewing night from sundown to 11 p.m. Aug. 19. The student observatory on the top of Stadium Drive parking garage will have a public viewing night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Aug. 20.

Academic departments that have eclipse-related events to post on the university's eclipse central page can contact Lauren Becwar at University Communication, 402-472-1112 or LBecwar2@unl.edu.