As the Great American Eclipse of 2017 approached in August, a group of 16 Cal Poly Pomona students and recent alumni drove to Lowman, Idaho, to be in the path of totality.
The students, who are part of the university’s astronomy public outreach program, arrived at the Bull Trout Lake Campground with two large portable telescopes, owned by the Department of Physics & Astronomy, as well as personal telescopes and camera equipment.
So, how did the Great American Eclipse measure up?
“The total eclipse was by far the coolest thing I have ever seen in the sky,” said Richard Picard, a sophomore with a dual major in aerospace engineering and physics. “I’m already planning my trip to go see the next one.”
Nicole Gage, a senior majoring in physics, says that “driving 36 hours, living in a tent, being covered in dirt, cooking over a fire and swimming in a lake for seven days was worth every bit of those 2 minutes and 9 seconds.”
“It was an incredible experience to observe the Moon slowly swallow the Sun. The air became cold, and the daylight faded away slowly enough for Venus to make an appearance at totality. When the eclipse glasses became solid black…I looked with my own eyes. The Moon appeared as a solid black circle surrounded by a beautiful, white corona that shot outwards. The sky on either side of Bull Trout Lake became orange as if we were experiencing two sunsets (or two sunrises) simultaneously.”
Jose Barrios, a junior majoring in physics, also found the trip well worth the drive. “In the last seconds toward totality, it felt as if I had been transported to an alien world as the environment changed around me, and then totality happened. Shivers went through my body as I took off my solar glasses and saw the sun like I had never seen it before. Now I think I fully understand the meaning of the word awesome.”
On the nights preceding the big event, students and alumni set up telescopes at the campground and invited other campers to view planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. For the eclipse viewing party, there were approximately 30 guests, said Matthew Povich, assistant professor of physics and astronomy.
“To give you an idea of the dedication of these students,” said Povich, “the students awoke before dawn so they could align the telescopes properly to track the Sun throughout the day of the eclipse. This requires finding reference stars in the sky, so it cannot be done during the daytime.”