Scientists and the Public Prepare for the American Total Solar Eclipse of August 21

BOSTON, Mass., February 15, 2017—The path of totality of the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse, will sweep across the United States from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years, since 1918. At a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team of astronomers described both scientific and public-interest aspects of the eclipse, which will dazzle those who travel into the zone of totality. This important swath across the continental United States from Oregon to South Carolina is only 70 miles wide, but only within that band will the excitement of the eclipse be substantial.

The symposium was arranged by solar-astronomer Jay Pasachoff of Williams College and Caltech, in collaboration with Angela Speck of the University of Missouri, whose university is the largest in the zone of totality. Pasachoff will talk about science to be gleaned by the eclipse observations and Speck will talk about ways to observe the eclipse. Also speaking will be Massachusetts-based science-consultant Charles Fulco about engagement of K-12 students and professor Tyler Nordgren of the University of Redlands, California, about unique ways to engage the public in the eclipse. Michael Kentrianakis, the Project Manager of the American Astronomical Society’s Eclipse 2017 Task Force, is the discussant at the session, which will last from 10:00 to 11:30 on Friday morning, February 17.

Pasachoff, a veteran of 64 solar eclipses, is leading an international team of astronomers in preparing scientific observations to study the sun’s outer layer, the solar corona, and also the effect of the eclipse on the Earth’s atmosphere. He is also coordinating visiting astronomers from around the globe, giving reciprocity for their hospitality in decades of past eclipse expeditions. Soon after the meeting, he is traveling to Patagonia in Argentina for an annular eclipse of the Sun on February 26. At annular eclipses, the moon is a little smaller than average so a ring of everyday sunlight remains, hiding the exciting phenomena that occur at a total eclipse like that of August 21.

Two citizen-science projects are among the activities that will be described. Prof. Hugh Hudson and Laura Peticolas of the Space Science Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, are heading a Megamovie project to use thousands of images taken by members of the general public, so-called citizen scientists, to provide an animation of variations in images over the 90 minutes that the Moon’s shadow will take to cross the continental United States. In a separate citizen-science plan, Dr. Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory is planning a Citizen Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Experiment (Citizen CATE), with 60 identical solar telescopes spaced across the path of totality to make an animation of highly calibrated identical images to show coronal dynamics.

The speakers try to bring across to the general public how exciting it is to be outdoors in the path of totality of a solar eclipse. It is particularly important for students of all ages to be outdoors during the eclipse, since the phenomenon can be inspiring. Pasachoff stresses that “being even 10 or 100 miles outside the path is like being outside a football stadium, technically ‘at the stadium’ but actually missing seeing the main event.” He would like to convince 300 million Americans from all over the country to join the 12 million people who live within the path of totality for the 2 or so minutes of totality on August 21. (An additional 76 million people live within a 200-mile drive of the path, according to map-maker Michael Zeiler of Santa Fe.)

Nobody has ever written a description of a solar eclipse as exciting as the phenomenon itself, and many people who see their first eclipse travel widely to see more.

Bringing the Excitement of the 2017 Solar Eclipse to the Public
Friday, February 17, 2017: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

Abstract: A total solar eclipse provides an unparalleled experience to witness the wonders and clockwork of the universe. An eclipse leaves an indelible impact on anyone lucky enough to have witnessed one. The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, offers this rare opportunity, the first to pass over the United States from coast to coast in 99 years. The American Astronomical Society’s Solar Eclipse 2017 Task Force and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses are organizing education and outreach efforts to explain — to the general public, teachers, and preschool, K-12, and college students — why it is worthwhile to travel into the 70-mile-wide band of totality. (A “99 percent eclipse” still leaves 1 percent of the sun’s brightness unhidden, making it more than 1000 times brighter than it is in the band of totality and preventing observers from seeing the most exciting eclipse phenomena, including the diamond rings, the chromosphere, and the solar corona.) The panel will describe how to observe the eclipse safely and how to avoid overstating the hazards. Speakers will also discuss potential scientific studies, citizen science, and activities for students of all ages in connection with the eclipse.


Jay Pasachoff: Williams College

Co-Organizer: Angela Speck, University of Missouri


Michael Kentrianakis, American Astronomical Society 2017 Eclipse Task Force

Noorali Jiwaji, U. Tanzania, about public outreach at the 2016 eclipse across Africa


Jay Pasachoff, Williams College

Science at Solar Eclipses

Charles Fulco, Independent Science Consultant

Using the Unique Eclipse Circumstances to Engage Students

Tyler Nordgren, University of Redlands

Unique Science Engagement Opportunities for the All-American 2017 Eclipse

Angela Speck, University of Missouri

Observing the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse


Pasachoff has seen more solar eclipses than anyone ever: the August 21 solar will be his 66th solar eclipse and his 34th total eclipse. He is Chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses, a joint Working Group of the Solar and the Education/Outreach/Heritage commissions. He is also a member of the Eclipse 2017 Task Force of the American Astronomical Society. Pasachoff is Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College, and holds a visiting appointment at Caltech. His degrees are from Harvard and he is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

His scientific observations at the 2017 total eclipse are sponsored by the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society and the Solar Terrestrial Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Pasachoff is coauthor, with Leon Golub, of a popular book about the Sun: Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun, and of a technical book, The Solar Corona. Pasachoff and Golub have prepared a new book, The Sun, for the Science Museum, London, to be published in June. The latest printing of his Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets contains two dozen pages about eclipse observing ( Pasachoff is working with PBS’s NOVA to prepare a television show to air two nights after the eclipse.

Nordgren is author of the recently published Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. Pasachoff’s review of the book appeared at:


Contact information for Jay Pasachoff: [email protected]

His books are listed at and his past eclipse expeditions are linked at His website for the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses is at

Angela Speck’s contact information is [email protected]

Michael Kentrianakis’s contact information is [email protected]

Charles Fulco’s contact information is [email protected]

Tyler Nordgren’s contact information is [email protected]


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.


Published February 15, 2017