University of Louisville Magazine

SUMMER 2017

The University of Louisville Alumni Magazine: for alumni, faculty, staff, students and anyone that is a UofL Cardinal fan.

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2 8 | L O U I S V I L L E . E D U "We regard it as a golden opportunity falling from the sky," said Williger, who joins his colleagues in seizing the chance to spread the excitement and knowledge about their field of study. The physics and astronomy depart- ment primed an audience last fall when its annual Bullitt lecture in astronomy featured former NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, known as "Mr. Eclipse" for his many books and predictions on the phenomenon. Espenak, who has witnessed 26 total solar eclipses, talked about the upcoming one, which will be visible Aug. 21 from the contiguous United States for the first time since 1979. The maximum viewpoint for the totality of the moon covering the sun will be near Hopkinsville in southwestern Kentucky starting around 1 p.m. CDT. The mid-afternoon effect will be "eerie twilight," Espenak says, as stars appear, temperatures cool and birds and other animals act as though night has fallen. "It's pretty cool that Kentucky is the epicenter of it," said Timothy Dowling, a professor who has seen two solar eclipses. In this state, where the moon will completely block the sun's face for up to two minutes, 40 seconds, "it's going to be one of the best ones ever." UofL students and faculty members are headed west to various spots in hopes of a clearer glimpse. The Society of Physics Students' UofL chapter will set up at Mike Miller County Park near Benton. Williger said he and depart- ment colleague James Lauroesch intend to meet with UofL alumni chapters in western Kentucky or slightly below the state line in Nashville, Tennessee. Benne Holwerda, an associate professor who joined the department this year, is bound for Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area, along with some Lou- isville Astronomical Society members and visitors. "I have friends coming who are probably going to be camping in my yard," Holwerda said. For those who cannot travel outside the city that day, Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium plans to open to the public 1:30-3:30 p.m. EDT with people who can talk about the phe- nomenon and a chance to watch a live feed in the domed theater, according to Paula McGuffey, planetarium program manager. A solar telescope will be avail- able so viewers in Louisville will be able to experience a partial eclipse where 96 percent of the sun is covered. The planetarium gift shop also will sell $3 eclipse-viewing glasses. People need to know when and how to safely observe the eclipse, and NASA, astronomers and doctors will spend much time until then educating the public about how to avoid permanent eye damage from intense brightness. People should avoid looking directly at the sun unless using protective eyewear – and that doesn't mean regular sunglasses will suffice. Dowling suggests welder's goggles with grade 14 glass or higher. Other options include eclipse glasses that use special filters, or viewers can make a simple pinhole camera for a projected view of the sun. "Do try to make this one, as you'll have to travel or wait awhile" for the next one, Williger said. The next total eclipse visible in part of the United States will be in 2024, and the next coast-to-coast one will be in 2045. Of course, rainy or overcast weather still could be a spoiler Aug. 21. "We live in Kentucky. There's a 50-50 chance of having clouds," he added. SPACE INTEREST HOPED TO FUEL SCIENCE LITERACY Whether it's a solar eclipse or the con- troversy over Pluto's classification as a planet, when the public gets intrigued by astronomical news, scientists relish the chance to educate. The outreach is an important part of an astronomer's work, according to Benne Holwerda, a new UofL associate pro- fessor who has been speaking to area school groups about the eclipse. "Your job is not complete until you go out in the community and share." Gerard Williger spoke about the eclipse in Louisville during the May "Beer with a Scientist" series about diverse scien- tific topics and also during a campus talk earlier. When the news is full of examples and potential discoveries, it makes teaching interesting and rewarding. "I actually look for a lot of teachable moments in class," Williger said. "I think it's impor- tant to become science literate." "An informed public is one that can make wise decisions," Williger said, who advocates lifelong learning about the sciences. Developments in space also can illumi- nate a professor's career-long research interests. Timothy Dowling, who studies atmo- spheric physics, spent the spring antici- pating insight from the final laps of the Cassini spacecraft mission and the first round of peer-reviewed papers from the Juno mission. He admits he has "skin in the game" — hoping for validation of research and methods he published in 1994 and in 2009. "I'm on pins and needles to get the re- sults of the 'MRI' on Saturn and Jupiter," he said. "I've got pretty big predictions on both of them." "This is a really neat time in astronomy and astrophysics," Dowling said. "There's a little bit of a renaissance right now." Timothy Dowling is among the UofL professors helping to educate the public about the total solar eclipse for which Kentucky is a prime vantage point.

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