On Monday, Aug. 21, the daytime sky will darken with the first total solar eclipse visible in North America since 1979. Four Cal Poly Pomona professors along with 33 students and recent alumni will be traveling to locations in the path of totality to experience this unique event.
Matthew Povich, an assistant professor in the physics and astronomy department, will see the eclipse with a group of 16 students and recent alums in Stanley, Idaho. The students, who will have two department telescopes equipped with solar filters for safe viewing of the partial eclipse phases before and after totality, will invite anyone in the vicinity to peer at the eclipsed sun through their telescopes.
This group of students includes leaders of CPP’s astronomy public outreach program. They have a wealth of experience hosting sky-viewing events both on campus and at local K-12 schools through Bringing the Universe to IE and LA Districts (BUILD). Over two years, the BUILD program has held 11 school events with a total of 1,500 guests. On campus, the group hosts star parties every month, weather permitting, as well as campus viewings for special astronomical events.
Navid Nakhjiri, an assistant professor in the aerospace engineering department, will attempt to repeat the 1919 experiment that proved Einstein’s general relativity theory. Led by British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddingon, Einstein’s experiment involved comparing the precise positions of the Hyades star cluster during the eclipse and then comparing those measurements to their normal positions in the sky.
“I have to photograph the stars very close to the sun during the total eclipse,” explains Nakhjiri, who will be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the event. “During an eclipse is the only time you can see stars in the daytime when the gravity of the sun bends their light. When I get back, I will compare the location of the stars in the photograph to their location in star charts to calculate how much the light beams are bent and confirm Einstein’s prediction based on the theory of general relativity. This experiment is difficult, but my calculations say it is doable if I am lucky. In six months, I hope to return to Jackson Hole and take new photographs to refine my calculations.”
Meanwhile, 17 students along with Geology Professors Jon Nourse and Nick Van Buer will be in the path of totality outside of Sun Valley, Idaho, on Trail Creek Road. The group is on an eight-day field trip for the upper division class Geologic Excursion to Northern Nevada and Southern Idaho to study multiple classic Cordilleran geologic-petrologic-structural-tectonic relationships first-hand. Following the eclipse, they will explore the area around Borah Peak, which rose approximately one foot during the area’s 1983 earthquake.