Eclipses have fascinated people for thousands of years. It is believed that, in the Celtic times, Stonehenge (UK) worked as a calculator to predict them. Nowadays, scientists are very good at math calculations to forecast them with an almost perfect accuracy.
During the sunset of last February 15th, the Moon interposed itself between the Sun and the Earth leading to a partial solar eclipse that could be seen from a great part of the Antarctica, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the South of Brazil. The Northern Provinces could not enjoy it.
It was a minor eclipse; the Moon just covered 16 % of the solar disc diameter. But it is the first of a series of eclipses that will occur in the next years, and that the Argentine people should not miss. That’s why, the day prior to the astronomic event, the Galileo Galilei Planetarium, commonly known as Planetario de Buenos Aires, received a very special visit: the astronomer Jay M. Pasachoff.
More than an eclipse hunter, Mr. Pasachoff considers himself to be an “umbraphile”, a lover of the shadow, the umbra. “I always joke that I don’t chase eclipses; I go there first and then the eclipse catches up to me. It’s the other way round”, said the astronomer.
The conference that the William Collage’s professor gave at the Planetarium was received by the public with delight. He made a review across the most important eclipses that he experienced in the past years. He put emphases in the total eclipse occurred on the 21st of August of last year in the USA, which could be observed from coast to coast, and in the annular eclipse that took place in Chubut, Argentina, the 26th of February, also in 2017. The one of the 15th was his eclipse number 67.
Dr. Pasachoff is very committed to science education, especially in the fields of Math, Physics and Astronomy. He has written many textbooks that are in constant actualization to reflect the latest discoveries. In the International Astronomical Union (IAU), he has worked with the CONICET researcher Dr. Beatriz García to design teaching strategies for students and teachers of all levels.
“Astronomy has a good name with the public and we can use it to teach all kinds of subjects, because people take well when you say you are in Astronomy”, commented Pasachoff, and added: “Eclipses are so impressive to anybody that we really cannot understand the Universe unless we start paying attention to them”.
On the 2nd of July 2019 and the 14th of December 2020, there will be two total eclipses in the center-south part of Argentina, which will be partial in most of South America. The expert recommended: “It is important to take children of all ages to the zone of totality because it is so impressive and dazzling that will make them pay attention to all their studies and all their subjects”.
An eclipse from a city balcony
It is usually thought that in order to appreciate the sky, you have to travel far away from the city, to an open field. But, that is not always the case. You just have to be aware of the next eclipse: find out the exact time it is going to be, the direction you have to watch, the elevation of the Sun, and make sure you have especial glasses with protective filters to avoid damaging your eyes. The days before the eclipse takes place, you have to make sure that the chosen sightseeing place does not have objects that can block your view, like trees or high buildings.
That is what researcher Beatriz García did. She also invited some of her students and neighbors to enjoy the eclipse of the 15th from the 16th floor-balcony, situated in the middle of a typical Buenos Aires neighborhood. Near the city center, Dr. Pasachoff put his cameras in the terrace of his hotel, and other CONICET scientists, in Tierra del Fuego, he also invited the general public to witness the event in the Astronomical Station of Rio Grande. Neither the buildings nor the clouds were able to overshadow the magnificent natural show of the sunset.
“When we, scientists, are asked how to make children and teenagers interested in science, the astronomers usually mention Astronomy as the entrance door: events like the passage of a comet, or telescope observations of the Moon or Saturn are unforgettable”, said García. “Such events, like solar eclipses, show that it is possible to stimulate the interest in our field of knowledge even during day time. You only need a filter that can be purchased at a hardware store”, she commented. Everybody has the access to the astronomical laboratory: “the sky over our heads”.
The Program for the Promotion of Scientific Vocations supports the course on Astronomy teaching NASE (Network for Astronomy School Education) for primary and high school teachers. This year, the course will take place in Salta, Entre Ríos and Mendoza.
By Jorgelina Martínez Grau