Partial Eclipse of the Hills


By Paula Turner

New Kenyon students and parents always hope for sunny weather during Orientation Week, but on Monday, Aug. 21, Gambier will temporarily go dim. That’s because the moon will block 85 percent of the village’s sunlight during Monday’s solar eclipse, the first coast-to-coast eclipse seen in the U.S. since 1918.

From 1-4 p.m., ISO-rated sun-safe paper glasses will be available on Middle Path between Olin Library and Ransom Hall. Student volunteers, part of Kenyon’s Arecibo Remote Command Center (ARCC) group, will demonstrate how to safely view the sun. Kenyon’s ARCC group provides opportunities for students to learn about astrophysics, operate telescopes and contribute to research.

Professor of Physics Paula Turner, who directs Kenyon’s Franklin Miller Observatory, offers some eclipse-viewing tips.

How does the experience of a partial eclipse compare with a total eclipse?

During a total eclipse, it gets dark enough that you see stars, you can see the corona of the sun, you will hear bird noises quiet down because they think it’s night. A partial eclipse of the sun is not that different than a partial eclipse of the moon. You will first start to see a tiny little incursion of the moon going across the sun at 1:05 p.m., and you’ll see the sun become completely unblocked by 3:52 p.m. The center of the eclipse time is 2:30 p.m., and for about half an hour before and after, from 2 to 3 p.m., you’ll be able to see a clearly crescent-shaped sun.

Will there be a noticeable decrease in light?

It will be like an overcast day or setting into twilight. If you think about it, when the sun goes down below the horizon, there is zero percent of the sun visible. Now think about how much scattered light there is for about 30 minutes afterward. That’s what it’s going to be like.

Will Kenyon experience a total solar eclipse anytime soon?

On April 8, 2024, Gambier will actually be right on the edge of the path of totality during an eclipse. That means south campus will experience a partial eclipse, while north campus will experience a very brief total solar eclipse.

Why is it so dangerous to look at the sun even when most of it is blocked by the moon?

When you try to look at the sun on a normal day, your blink reflex causes you to look away. When the sun is a thin sliver, your blink reflex hasn’t been trained to look away from that amount of light. But what you’re doing is you’re taking the lens of your eye and focusing that light onto your retina, so you’re concentrating the sunlight onto a tissue that can essentially become sunburned.

Why are scientists excited by solar eclipses?

We’re not studying the eclipse itself; the eclipse is just a shadow cast on us by the moon. What we can do with an eclipse, particularly a total eclipse, is we can view parts of the sun that are lost in the glare of the sun normally. The corona is not visible during the daytime because there’s too much glare from the sun, so even when you point instruments at it, you’re not able to image it. We can image it by using space probes, so imaging the corona is something that’s done daily, but when you’re here on Earth, you don’t see the corona most of the time. So if there are things that you want to study or understand, you can do that during an eclipse.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.