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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 9, 2019—Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy Jay Pasachoff and a team that included Williams College seniors Christian Lockwood ’20, John Inoue ’20, and Erin Meadors ’20 joined fellow astronomers and spectators in South America to observe the solar corona during the total solar eclipse of July 2. Pasachoff and his team travelled to Chile where he and the students, joined by Rob Wittenmyer ’98, observed the eclipse from a mountainside above La Higuera. Other colleagues on Pasachoff’s team, including Kevin Reardon ’92, observed from Cerro Tololo, with support from the Associated University for Research in Astronomy (AURA) at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
“The day was particularly clear, with not a cloud in the sky,” Pasachoff said. “We were at about 2,500 feet at La Higuera, and our colleagues on Cerro Tololo were higher, about 7,500 feet altitude.”
The teams’ scientific goals included studying motions and dynamics of the solar corona, the million-degree extended outer atmosphere of the Sun, which is held in interesting shapes by the sun’s magnetic field. The teams also measured spectra showing the temperature of different parts of the corona. The first results confirmed the relatively low (for million-degree gas) temperature of the corona at this minimum phase of the sunspot cycle.
Pasachoff said that many thousands of people from around the world traveled to South America for the eclipse, and were rewarded with striking views of the dramatic eclipse phenomena. “One cruise ship that traveled from Tahiti for a view of the eclipse in mid-Pacific, however, found itself under unbroken clouds and the participants did not succeed in seeing the eclipse, nor did colleagues on Oeno Island, the only Pacific island in the path of totality,” Pasachoff said.
Support was provided by a new grant from the Solar Terrestrial Program of the Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation. Additional support for student travel was provided by Williams College’s International Travel Program, and support for student summer research was provided by the NASA Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.
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 July 9, 2019