Astronomer Jay Pasachoff Awarded NSF Grant

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., February 24, 2011 – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year grant of $158,234 to Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. The grant will support research on the two major solar eclipses that will occur in 2012. Pasachoff will work with long-time collaborator Bryce Babcock, research associate of the astronomy department, former director of the Science Center, and retired lecturer in physics, on optical and radio coronal studies of the eclipses.

The first eclipse will take place on May 20, 2012. It will be an annular solar eclipse, where the moon is farther than average from the earth and therefore appears slightly smaller, leaving a ring of everyday sunlight around its silhouette on the sun. The second eclipse will be a total solar eclipse, on Nov. 14, 2012.

Pasachoff will work on the May annular eclipse with Dale Gary of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Thomas Kuiper of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Janardhan Padmanabhan of India’s Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope to observe the interruption of radiation as the moon crosses sunspot regions on the solar surface. The team will compare spacecraft observations with different high-resolution observations from major radio telescopes in the United States. Pasachoff plans to involve students from his spring seminar course in solar physics in this work.

Pasachoff, Babcock, and two Williams College students will study the November total solar eclipse from northeastern Australia. They will make high-resolution images of the corona, again to compare with spacecraft observations, to study coronal dynamics.  They will collaborate with Robert Lucas of the University of Sydney, John Seiradakis and Aris Voulgaris from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, Leon Golub and Alec Engell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Vojtech Rusin of the Slovakian Academy of Sciences, and Miloslav Druckmuller and Hana Druckmullerova of the Technical University of Brno, Czech Republic.

Williams College has a long track record of observing solar eclipses, beginning with Pasachoff’s arrival in 1972. Pasachoff himself has observed 52 solar eclipses, including the latest total solar eclipse on July 11, 2010, which he observed over Easter Island with visiting professor of astronomy Marek Demianski, Williams College sophomore Muzhou Lu, and visiting exchange student Craig Malamut. Pasachoff is Chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses.

Pasachoff has previously received NSF grants for eclipse studies, most recently for the 2006 total eclipse that a Williams College team observed from Greece. His research on eclipses has also been supported by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, most recently for the 2008 eclipse observed from Siberia.

At Williams since 1972, Pasachoff teaches courses in astronomy and astrophysics. He has written numerous books, textbooks, and scholarly articles, and he has held visiting scholarly appointments at the University of Hawaii, l’Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the California Institute of Technology, among others. He received his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. from Harvard.


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 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.

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Published February 24, 2011