Inside Texas Tech: 2017 Solar Eclipse

Aug 23, 2017

At first, it looked like a bite out of a cookie, then the bite got larger. At the end, it looked like a banana. The eclipse in Lubbock eventually covered almost three-quarters of the sun.

For a time, though, it seemed that Mother Nature was going to get in the way. Hundreds of Texas Tech students, faculty and administrators waited patiently to see if the cloudy conditions would obscure the rare celestial show. “It is Mother Nature, she’s mean. Sometimes that’s a mean lady,” said Gwen Armstrong, lead technician in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. 

She set up a solar filter onto a telescope in the courtyard of the University Libraries as people milled about waiting for the arrival of the eclipse. She worked to focus the instrument on nearby grass before deciding it was sharp enough to turn skyward. “Anytime you have one, it’s exciting," Armstrong said. "It gets excitement in the public and they’re more aware of astronomy and things going on.” 

Though clouds above the crowd kept the entire sun concealed throughout the eclipse, there were times when the clouds thinned or parted slightly and the partial eclipse could be seen.

At the time of maximum coverage, just before 1 p.m., just more than 72 percent of the sun was covered by the moon’s shadow. It seemed like dusk in the middle of the day.

ITT: Gearing up for the Solar Eclipse

The 500 free eclipse-watching glasses that were handed out went quickly but those who got a pair shared liberally with others.

Tom Heisey was there as a volunteer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. He too had a telescope configured so people could gaze at the eclipse. His day job is handling IT for the Department of Engineering. “I love the fact that everybody is out here and that I can share my love of astronomy.," Heisey said. "It’s been 99 years since we’ve had a coast to coast eclipse, so this is a really exciting event."

He continued that although he would have preferred to be on the eclipse line, sharing his passion for astronomy is the next best thing. 

Little children also were among the crowd and they understood how exceptional the viewing opportunity was. Nine-year-old Gloria Kim came with her father and her younger brother. “Well it’s a one-of-a-time year that the solar eclipse comes and so it’s really rare,” she said. 

A junior architectural student showed up in a navy blue NASA T-shirt and waited to see if clouds would get in his way. Standing nearby was 21-year-old Afif Abdalla, an industrial engineering major. He couldn't help but feel disappointed in the cloud coverage. "I kind of feel a bit sad because I cannot see it clearly," he said. 

Eclipses always occur during a new moon, so on Monday the moon’s illuminated side faced the sun.

Scientists across the US got a rare viewing of the sun’s corona, which they can do anytime by placing a disk inside their telescopes. But the moon did one thing those little disks can’t: it exposed the innermost part of the corona.

One researcher from South Africa also took in the skyscape. Tana Joseph is a Fulbright fellow and a visiting astronomer at Texas Tech. She watched a partial eclipse in her home in Capetown in February when just 14 percent of the sun was obscured.

“We hadn’t had the path of totality across South Africa in many years so this will be the biggest partial eclipse that I’ve seen," Joseph said. "We’ll get 72 percent of the sun covered up here." She said she plans to be back in Texas in 2024 when there’s another total solar eclipse that will pass through the state, through Austin and Dallas. "So Lubbock will be a fun place to be for that as well," she said.

Lubbock eclipse watchers at the university libraries spent time outside and inside, where TV screens allowed people to see images of places across the US where the moon’s shadow blotted out the entire sun.