Broncos gather near and far to experience total solar eclipse

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Saxophone solos silenced. Lectures lulled. Presentations paused. Dissertations diverged for a moment as 3 p.m. approached on Monday, April 8, and thousands of Broncos gathered outside across Western Michigan University's campus with their eyes fixed on the sky to witness a rare solar eclipse in near totality.

"It got weirdly cold and dark, so it was kind of cool to just sit there while it happened. I can see why in old times they thought it was the end of the world or something," says Jasmine Granados, a biomedical sciences student from Richland, Michigan. 

Students, faculty and staff brought out blankets and lawn chairs, shared eclipse viewing glasses and joined in mini watch parties outside spots like Lee Honors College, Miller Fountain, Floyd Hall and the tarmac at the College of Aviation—some Bronco athletes even took in the view from Waldo Stadium.

"This is my first time seeing an eclipse like this, and it was really nice to view it with a lot of people. It feels like a big community," adds James Sario, a statistics graduate student from the Philippines.

A photo from totality when the Physic's Club and Women in Stem witnessed the event in Muncie, Indiana. (Courtesy: Shiva Agarwal)

Faculty from the Department of Physics set up two telescopes equipped with filters outside Rood Hall to give the University community a closer look at the celestial event. Adrienne Mills, a manufacturing engineering technology student from Kalamazoo, was among the crowd who lined up. 

"At first I thought it was just little specks on the lens, but the professor told me, ‘No, those are sunspots!’ It was really cool."

A group of students in Western's Physics Club and Women in Stem registered student organizations had the opportunity to charter a bus and travel to Muncie, Indiana, to witness the eclipse in complete totality. They brought telescopes and other equipment along with them to catch a close-up view of the corona—the outer edges of the sun's atmosphere—and experienced the darkness that settled in as stars appeared in the sky.

"It was the most awe-inspiring thing I've ever seen," says Jett Thomas, a physics student from Kalamazoo and president of the Physics Club. "Before you die, you owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse."

Dr. Andrew O'Hara, assistant professor of physics, remained on Western's campus because he had a class to teach in the morning. An amateur astronomer, he was lucky enough to be in the path of totality for the last total solar eclipse in 2017. While the experience of witnessing the moon block just about 96% of the sun in Kalamazoo this time was a bit different, he says seeing the dimming of ambient light and feeling a slight temperature drop was still exciting.

"I think for me, the big thing this time was getting to share it with so many students, faculty and staff of the University," he says. "Even though the knowledge of eclipses and math behind them have been known for a long time, there is still something magical about them—perhaps it’s the connection across humanity."

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