Students on lawn
April 04, 2024

Astronomical

Solar eclipse spreads wonder, creates connection across campus
by Rita Savard

Solar eclipse excitement is sweeping Andover as faculty and students prepare for a unique teachable moment to promote science.

“Astronomers appreciate a good show,” says physics and astronomy teacher Jose Manuel Zorrilla Matilla. “Historically, eclipses have played an important role in science, including providing one of the first empirical tests for Einstein’s general relativity theory. The event on April 8 is an opportunity to experience, in a very tangible way, how the Earth is part of a larger universe. Seeing the moon move slowly to cover the sun gives a sense of scale and distance to these objects that is hard to get otherwise.”

The rarity adds to the hype around the astronomical spectacle. A total solar eclipse—when the moon crosses directly in front of the sun, blocking its light for a few minutes—happens roughly twice a year somewhere on Earth. But it doesn’t come our way often and won’t fall in Andover’s path again until about 2079, Zorrilla says.

While Andover will not be in the path of totality, the view from campus—weather permitting—promises to be nothing short of spectacular.

“A celestial event of this magnitude awakens something in our connection to nature and the universe,” Zorrilla explains. “It’s a moment where we can collectively enjoy the magnificence of our solar system.”
Commemorative Andover eclipse glasses are available to all students, faculty, and staff for the historic event.

Students in the Astronomy Club will be setting up a telescope with a solar filter in front of Paresky Commons, where the campus community—outfitted with commemorative Andover-themed eclipse shades—can observe the moon covering about 93 percent of the sun at the peak of the phenomenon.

At the same time, NASA will also launch three sounding rockets into space to study how the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere react when sunlight momentarily dims over a portion of the planet.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Zorrilla said. “It will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many students and adults to experience science and hear it being talked about as it’s unfolding in front of you—it’s never what you expect.”

Categories: Academics

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