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Monday, Aug. 21 may have started with Tuskegee University students staring into textbooks on the first day of fall semester classes, but by early afternoon, many were staring into the sky to mark the rare occurrence of a solar eclipse.
Faculty, staff and students assembled near the Daniel “Chappie” James airplane on campus to experience the rare phenomenon. Faculty and staff of the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences, who were on hand to share the experience with students, made the sidewalk their impromptu classroom by explaining the happenings of the day with the students who had congregated.
Many of the students did not have the special viewing glasses or protective eyewear, but the faculty and staff on hand happily shared their viewing glasses and welder’s visors so that all in attendance could view the “magnificent sight” — one of the several terms used to describe the solar eclipse. Other adjectives — ranging from “absolutely awesome” to “incredible” — came from students witnessing their first solar eclipse. Those without protective eyewear learned how to view a solar eclipse by placing a pin hole in a sheet of paper and holding it shoulder height to reflect the image inverted on the ground.
“Experiencing the sheer magnitude of two enormous bodies aligning gives us an immense appreciation of their extreme mass and energy, and also an appreciation of how delicate and precious life is,” said Dr. Vascar Harris, professor of aerospace science engineering.
Many solar eclipse “first-timers” were not expecting the “blurry” shadow effect caused by the solar eclipse. Bruce Heath, lab manager for the Department of Aerospace Science Engineering, told students to hold out their hands and look at the image on a sheet of paper on the ground. Instead of the usual clearly defined outline, the result was a distorted shadowy image of the hand on the paper.
Although Tuskegee did not experience a total blackout like other parts of the country, there was a period of twilight followed by a noticeable drop in temperature. Some of the observers said it caused an eerie or even prickly physical sensation. Some students and employees opted to stay indoors for fear of looking up at the sun. The time of peek coverage only lasted a couple of minutes, and some observers had iPads and cameras to capture the moment.
By late afternoon, sunny skies gave way to clouds, which turned into a windy, brisk thunderstorm — placing an interesting exclamation point to a day full of natural science wonders.
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