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Look Up: 5 Things You Should Know Before the 2024 Solar Eclipse

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Jordyn Reiland


Jordyn Reiland writer

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DU students, faculty and staff will have two opportunities to partake in eclipse-related events on campus.

Members of the DU community look up at the solar eclipse

When the total solar eclipse casts darkness in the sky for the first time in seven years on April 8, a group of University of Denver physics and astronomy students will see firsthand if their calculations and research have paid off.

Faculty member D.J. Bird Bear and 10 students are making their way down to Lampasas, Texas, to be in the path of totality and have a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to experience the total solar eclipse. From Texas all the way up to Maine, tens of millions of people will experience something that won’t be visible again for another 20 years.

“This is what the DU College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) is all about. I think it's a great opportunity for the students to see the connection between theory and practice,” Bird Bear says.

The trip culminates a research-based physics project that took place over two academic quarters and tasked students with finding where and when the total solar eclipse would take place. The students determined that Lampasas had the highest chance of clear skies (64%)—and so the road trip was planned.

The work students have done in the last six months has “really pushed the bounds of what undergraduates are capable of,” Bird Bear says.

The group has received support from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Denver Astronomical Society and the United Launch Alliance.

Even though Colorado is not one of the 13 states in the path of totality, those deciding to stay put in Denver can expect to see a partial solar eclipse—approximately 65%—as long as the weather cooperates.

The partial eclipse will begin around 11:30 a.m. local time, peak at 12:40 p.m. and end just before 2 p.m. DU students, faculty and staff will have two opportunities to partake in eclipse-related events on campus.

The Denver Astronomical Society is hosting an observing event at DU’s Chamberlin Observatory on Monday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., where binoculars, telescopes and eclipse glasses will be available. Also, from 11:30-1:30, the Society of Physics Students will host an event on the Campus Green outside of Sturm Hall with eclipse glasses and other viewing items.

Here are five things you should know before taking in the 2024 solar eclipse.

1. The sun is still dangerous to look at during an eclipse.

Looking at a partial solar eclipse isn't inherently more dangerous than looking at the sun at any other time, but people do still need to take precautions to avoid damaging their eyes.

"People are more tempted to look at the sun because they know something's going on, and some might wrongly think that it's safe to view it without eye protection when it's partially covered,” NSM faculty member and astronomer Jennifer Hoffman says.

Those wanting to experience the partial eclipse are encouraged to look up, but only with proper eyewear or other safe solar filters. The sun’s surface will never be fully obscured in Colorado—the only time when it’s safe to remove eclipse eyewear.

Once the eclipse is underway, the moon will pass over the sun and take progressively larger chunks out of the sun.

Even though Coloradans won't experience the same pitch-black darkness as those who are in the path of totality, if you're outside, you may notice the shadows looking a little different, and it may appear more like a cloudy day instead of a bright, sunny day. 

2. Total solar eclipses are a completely random occurrence.

It’s nothing more than an accident that the moon is at just the right distance away from the Earth and the same apparent size as the sun, Hoffman says.

Most of the moons in the solar system are tiny rocks. For example, Mars’ two moons can go in front of the sun, but they don't block it completely—as seen from Mars' surface by rovers, she adds.

“Millions of years ago, that wasn’t the case and millions of years from now, that won’t be the case anymore. So, it is a special time in the Earth’s history,” Hoffman says.

3. Attitudes toward eclipses have changed over time.

For many, eclipses are seen as a special event, but that hasn’t always been the case—both historically and in some present cultures.

“You can imagine, if you depend on the sun to grow your crops and protect you from wild animals, and then it suddenly goes away without warning—that’s scary,” Hoffman says.

Culturally, it can also be considered “taboo” to be outside during an eclipse, Bird Bear says. He had to ask permission from Navajo leadership to partake in the last two eclipses, as it’s usually seen as a time when people should be inside.

4. There are more eclipses than we realize.

The moon comes between the Earth and the sun every month, but that doesn’t mean there’s an eclipse that frequently, Hoffman says. Given the slight tilt of the moon’s orbit, it is often slightly above or below the sun.

A total solar eclipse happens about every year and a half, and a partial solar eclipse happens at least twice a year somewhere on Earth.

The uniqueness of this solar eclipse is the sheer number of people in the U.S. who will be able to view it given its path. The next partial solar eclipse visible from Denver will be in January 2029, Hoffman says.

5. Eclipses bring people together.

Astronomy can often feel far away or hard to observe, but an event like a solar eclipse is something everyone can relate to and participate in some way, Hoffman says.

During the last eclipse in 2017, small towns in Illinois, Kansas, Oregon and Georgia, among others, were packed with people and roadways were filled, all to get the perfect view.

"I love events like this that allow people the chance to think about something that's a little bit outside of our day to day and encourages us to think about the Earth as a planet that's part of a larger system," she adds.

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