St. John Fisher physics professor answers eclipse FAQ’s

Eclipse FAQ’s

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A lot of our reporting has been focused on the preparation and logistics of the solar eclipse. But we want to focus on the wonder and fascination, too.

What is an eclipse? How do scientists know when it will happen?

News10NBC’S Eriketa Cost took these questions to Dr. Jeff Stephens, who teaches physics at St. John Fisher University. Stephens said, learning about the eclipse may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Plotting the eclipse goes back to our ancestors. Stephens said it does require a lot of equations and data. But you don’t need to worry about that to understand the basics.

An eclipse, is a generic term we use for anything that’s going to block something out, he said.

Think of the orbit of the moon around earth, and the earth around the sun. When the moon blocks the sun on Monday, we’ll be in the center of its shadow.

And you don’t need technology to even calculate something like this.

Stephens said you can plot movement in the sky with simple landmarks, like a pole in the ground. Then, observe how those paths change.

“I’m not going to give you the technical answer, that would take a giant white board and an undergraduate degree!” he said.

Scientists and physicists have formed equations over time to better understand it.

“So we’ve been doing the math, taking the measurements, correcting as we go. And we’ve gotten very precise for it. The laws we have to govern the motion are fantastic. So we had the ability to predict these things hundreds of years into the future. It’s wonderful.”

Now don’t forget, this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. One that’s unique to everyone!

Stephens explained what the eclipse means to him.

“It’s a neat combination of a very visceral experience, just as a human out there, and watching the moon blot out the sun. But also, the scientist in me that understands how unique an alignment like this is, and how exciting it is to be in the path,” he said.

Another tool to understand the sky is a telescope. The technology has been around for years, and it’s similar to the eclipse glasses we’ll be using to protect our eyes, before the full totality.

“The eye or the telescope, you always need the same blocking film in front, this is known as the film version, similar to what’s inside the glasses,” he said. “This one happens to be a motorized one, so hopefully it will track the sun for me.”

Dr. Stephens will be spending the eclipse on campus.

“For me, I’m just super excited that it’s right here in our backyard, that we get a chance to be a part of it, so I don’t have to go anywhere. I can just set up and enjoy the show.”

He said a lot of his students have been asking questions in class, but unfortunately, the moment in history isn’t aligning with their curriculum calendar, so they try to squeeze in some eclipse fun when they can.

“I’ve told my students, I’m going to be busy over here,” he said. “There will be an event on campus for students and faculty and staff to all participate in, the total eclipse happens at a certain time but the whole eclipse event is going from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m-ish. So we’ll have some snacks, some events going on.”