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Daniel Jontof-Hutter adjusts his telescope last week in preparation for traveling to Oregon to view the total eclipse of the sun.

Daniel Jontof-Hutter adjusts his telescope last week in preparation for traveling to Oregon to view the total eclipse of the sun.

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Pacific News

Rare total eclipse becomes learning experience for Pacific students

Aug 15, 2017

A team of about 20 University of the Pacific physicists, physics and engineering students has traveled to Madras, Oregon, to see a rare event in the natural world - the total eclipse of the sun.

The moon's orbit will bring it between the Earth and the sun at about 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21, casting a shadow on the Earth, and the eclipse "totality," or climax, will be at 10:17 a.m. Here in Northern California, the sun will be about 75 percent blocked, but in Madras, it will be totally blocked for about a minute and a half.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I've never seen one and I'm an astronomer," said Daniel Jontof-Hutter, an assistant professor in Pacific's Department of Physics. "It's very, very rare (that the path of the shadow) comes within driving distance so you can actually see one. If you stay in the same spot and just wait for one, it would be a 600-year wait."

Solar eclipses happen somewhere on Earth every six months, but it's been a little more than 38 years since people in the United States have been able to see a total eclipse. That was when the path of totality passed over parts of Oregon and Washington on Feb. 26, 1979.

The total eclipse is a rare chance to make recordings and observations students normally only get to read about or model.

"We're going to try to use data from Stockton alongside our observations of the eclipse to do things like measure the distance to the moon and the size of the Earth," said Jontof-Hutter.

Two Pacific physicists on the team have seen a total eclipse previously. Assistant professors Elisa Toloba and Guillermo Barro traveled to China's Gobi Desert in 2008. They said that during a total eclipse, the sky goes dark and the temperature drops. Many people describe it as an overwhelming, emotional experience.

"People crying, people screaming, hugging people that you don't even know - all those kinds of things happen," said Toloba.

Other Pacific faculty members will travel to other places along the path of totality, including Idaho and South Carolina.

Learn more about the Great American Eclipse:
"Four tips for photographing the solar eclipse"
"What it's like to see a total solar eclipse"
"Visit WPC lawn for Great American Eclipse"
"Pacific sources for Great American Eclipse 2017"    
Stockton Campus photos from the eclipse
Social meida posts about the eclipse