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“Totality” Unforgettable Eclipse Viewing
By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte
Did you see it? Were you there? Monday, August 21, 2017 is a date most of us won’t soon forget. We were lucky to have beautiful clear skies over Rossman School to witness the amazing spectacle of a total solar eclipse. Rossman families, faculty and friends braved a hot, steamy day to gather at the Woods Athletic Field and enjoy the rare event together.
There are two different kinds of eclipses, solar and lunar. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. Total solar eclipses, like the one on August 21, occur because of an amazing celestial coincidence; the sun appears to be just about the same size as the moon in the sky. We perceive them as the same size even though the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon because the moon is also 400 times closer to us than the sun! That means, when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun at just the right angle of orbit, the moon’s disk can completely cover the sun and block the light from reaching us.
While total solar eclipses are rare events, it’s even rarer to live in the path of totality. We were very fortunate that Rossman School fell just inside the boundary of the path of totality. This is where the moon’s shadow is the darkest and blocks the light from the sun completely. Outside the path of totality, witnesses see a partial eclipse only.
Participants at Rossman School started arriving before noon, when first contact occurred. This is when the moon first moves in front of the sun; students mentioned that it looked like the moon was “taking a bite out of the sun.” Over the course of the next hour, excitement built as the crowd used their special eclipse viewing glasses to watch the moon take over a progressively larger portion of the sun. Families enjoyed picnic lunches and visiting in the shade while trying to stay cool. Kids and parents alike visited several stations and made pinhole viewers, hole-punch viewers and bracelets made from ultraviolet light detecting beads. The scientific observations flowed naturally as people started noticing the shadow of the eclipse filtering through the leaves on the trees and other small spaces.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the excitement reached a fever pitch as kids shouted out twenty and ten minute countdowns. People moved out of their shady spots to get the best view of totality. Then, there was a moment of disappointment and panic as a stray cloud floated in front of the eclipse. Everyone made the best of it and even made some great discoveries during the cloud cover. Students noticed that it started to get quiet as birds began to roost, signaled by the darkening sky. Then, it got noisy as the crickets and cicadas began their nightly songs. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped slightly. Finally at 1:17 p.m., the moment everyone had been waiting for ... totality! There were shouts of joy and cheers from across the field as people removed their eclipse glasses to view the wonder of totality. We saw the shimmering, glowing corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun that is only visible during totality and shadow bands stretching across the field as totality neared its end.
After a brief minute of amazement, the protective glasses went back on as the sun emerged from behind the moon and we saw a quick spark of light, also known as the diamond ring effect. There were sighs of disappointment and groans of complaint that the greatest spectacle had ended. Everyone that left on Monday agreed it was an amazing way to kick off another school year. If you missed it, you can start planning your travels now for April 8, 2024 ... we won’t be in the path of totality for this one!
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.