College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

‘Twice in a Millennium’ Eclipse Viewings Set for UM

Department of Physics and Astronomy and university library offer safe ways to watch solar show

AUGUST 17, 2017 BY MICHAEL NEWSOM

Monday’s total solar eclipse will be a “twice in a millennium event” that results in 93 percent of the sun being covered by the moon in north Mississippi. Two events at the University of Mississippi will allow the community to safely experience it.

The eclipse will happen between 11:54 a.m. and 2:52 p.m., with the maximum coverage of the sun occurring locally at 1:24 p.m. The J.D. Williams Library will host a viewing in the Quadrangle between the library and the Phi Mu Fountain, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy will be set up in the green space between Lewis Hall, the library and the Lyceum.

“The moon will slowly pass in front of the sun,” said Tibor Torma, director of UM’s Kennon Observatory and research assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “Weather permitting, we’ll be able to see it happen, gradually, over an hour-and-a-half.

“It will get a little darker. It will be worth looking at shadows of trees, where the sunlight seeping through makes all crescent-shaped shadows.”

The best view of the eclipse will be in a narrow swath that stretches from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, and includes Nashville, but locals will still get a show, weather permitting.

Total solar eclipses are rare, happening in any one location on average about once every 375 years, which is the reason for the hype. Luckily, another total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the continental United States on April 8, 2024.

Oxford will see about 90 percent coverage of the sun Monday.

Cloud cover could make the eclipse hard to view, Torma noted, so organizers are hoping the weather cooperates.

“It is, of course, a gamble,” Torma said. “Past data indicate only about 20 (percent) to 30 percent chance of clear weather this part of the year and on the day in Oxford.

“The forecast will be informative only a day or so ahead. Forecasters are not very good at predicting cloudiness. In case of cloudy weather, there is absolutely nothing to see. So, cross your fingers.”

The library will have eclipse glasses available for the public to use, and the physics department will have telescopes with the proper filters available.

Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses are not safe for looking at the sun as they let too much sunlight to go through, even if the lenses look very dark, organizers note. The filters should meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.

“It is very dangerous to a person’s eyes to look directly into the sun otherwise, and during the eclipse it is even worse,” Torma said.

“What happens is the environment gets darker, so the human pupil opens up and lets in more light than normal. Yet the un-eclipsed crescent part of the sun is as bright as ever, and may cause serious eye damage.”

The library will live stream the NASA TV eclipse coverage inside on the first floor from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The coverage also is available at this link.

The event will be spectacular if the clouds stay away, said Marco Cavaglia, an Ole Miss professor of physics and astronomy who studies gravitational waves, black holes and other astronomical phenomena.

“I would encourage anybody who can to try and get in the totality zone, if possible,” Cavaglia said. “It’s only a few hours’ drive north from here. But even if one decides to stay here in town, the show is assured.”