Williams College solar expedition

June 05, 2001

Williams College expedition to study solar eclipse in Africa

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., June 6, 2001--Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College, is leading an expedition of students, faculty, and staff to Lusaka, Zambia, to study the first total solar eclipse of the millennium.

Pasachoff, chair of the Working Group on Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), will be observing his 32nd eclipse. He also chairs the Subcommittee on Public Education at the Time of Eclipses of the IAU's Commission on Education and Development. He wrote the "Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets" in addition to astronomy texts. He is co-author, with Leon Golub, of the trade book "The Surprising Science of Our Sun," recently published by Harvard University Press.

On June 21 a band of total darkness will travel across southern Africa and Madagascar. The Williams group will conduct three experiments from its temporary station in the Zambian capital. Two of them seek insight into how the sun's corona, the outermost layer of its atmosphere, can attain four million degrees Fahrenheit (about two million Celsius) when its surface is only 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6,000 Celsius).

The third is conducted in collaboration with scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Williams group will take images of the solar corona during the eclipse for comparison with images captured by the Extreme-ultraviolet Imaging Telescope and the Large Angle Spectroscopic Coronagraph (LASCO) aboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) in space. They will also measure the polarization of the outer corona for comparison with measurements from the LASCO and Ultraviolet Coronagraph Spectrometer aboard SOHO. All of this must take place during slightly more than three minutes of totality.

"Total solar eclipses are extremely exciting, both scientifically and aesthetically," Pasachoff said. "Since the moon perfectly blocks the sun but leaves the corona in view, we get a rare chance to explore activity that affects so many aspects of life on earth. And being present for those precious minutes of totality is breathtaking-- the most awesome event in the natural world. No matter how many I see, I never tire of the experience."

Williams has a rich history of scientific expeditions, including the first ever sent by an American college, in 1835 to Nova Scotia. This month's expedition includes nine current or recently graduated Williams students and one student from Swarthmore College (on an exchange program with Williams).

Other faculty and staff from Williams are Bryce A. Babcock, coordinator of science facilities; Stephan E. Martin, supervisor of the Hopkins Observatory; Catharine B. Hill, provost, professor of economics, and an expert on Zambia; and James G. Kolesar, director of public affairs. Taking part as medical officer is Williamstown physician Paul E. Rosenthal. They will be assisted by Phyllis Babcock, Emily Babcock of Drury H.S., and John Kildahl of Mt. Greylock Regional H.S.

Joining them in Lusaka will be other U.S. scientists and scientists from Great Britain, India, Malaysia, Slovakia, and Venezuela.
The expedition is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium, the Science Laboratories at Williams College, and the Safford Fund, Brandi Fund, and Rob Spring Fund at Williams.

The expedition, which leaves Williamstown June 10, can be reached at williamseclipse@yahoo.com

Cell phone in Zambia during June 12-24 and 26-27: 260-1-438-327 (where 260 is Zambia and 1 is Lusaka); from the United States dial: 011-260-1-438-327. Zambia will be 6 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

General eclipse web information:http://www.williams.edu/astronomy/IAU_eclipses which is the same as http://www.totalsolareclipse.netand, for specific Williams College expedition information: http://www.williams.edu/astronomy/eclipse01.

The student participants are Daniel B. Seaton (Williams '01), Gabriel B. Brammer (Williams '02), Shoshana C. Clark (Williams '02), Bethany E. Cobb (Williams '02), D. Michael Gioiello (Williams '02), Kathleen S. Gibbons (Williams '03), Christopher D. Holmes (Williams '03), Kristen L. Shapiro (Williams '03), Misa Cowee (Williams '01), and Roban Kramer (Swarthmore '02, at Williams as a Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Summer Fellow).

Williams College

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