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Solar eclipse

Solar eclipse has CMU physics faculty totally fired up

Some profs crossing country to get front-row seats

Contact: Curt Smith


​The upcoming solar eclipse has some Central Michigan University faculty so pumped that they're hitting the road to catch the event in its full glory.

The moon will cover 80 percent of the sun when the eclipse hits Michigan on Aug. 21. That sounds like a lot, but the difference between 80 percent and the full shot is huge, according to Axel Mellinger, an associate professor in CMU's physics department.

"Some people have compared it to watching the Super Bowl from the parking lot versus being inside the stadium," he said.

Mellinger calls teaching material science his "day job," but adds astronomy and astrophotography have been longtime passions. He created the Milky Way photo panorama displayed on the first floor of CMU's Dow Science Building.

He also created a lunar eclipse video in 2014 and plans to make a video of the solar eclipse.

Cornhusker eclipse

Mellinger had a place staked out in Ravenna, Nebraska, more than a week ahead of the eclipse. It's along a 70-mile-wide path of totality that stretches from Oregon's Pacific Coast to South Carolina. If Aug. 21 turns out to be cloudy in Ravenna, he'll move.

Other physics faculty will be in thetoned- eclipse_embed.jpg front row, too.  Christopher Tycner is heading to Nashville, Tennessee; Glen Williams is going to Carbondale, Illinois; and Aaron Lacluyze will be in South Carolina.

"Inside the stadium," Mellinger said, the sky will get dark enough for stars to twinkle. Along with photographing the eclipse, he'll study the brighter planets and stars — in particular Regulus in the constellation Leo, which will be quite close to the sun.

Nothing like that will be seen in Michigan, he said. At 80 percent totality, the change will be barely noticeable. Here, the eclipse will begin in the early afternoon and last two to 2½ hours, Mellinger said.

"It'll still be a sunny day," he said.

Taking precautions

However, even 20 percent of sun is dangerous to the naked eye, Mellinger said. He strongly warns people outside the total eclipse's path to not look at the sun directly, or worse, use telescopes without a strong solar filter.

He also said the sunlight glasses specially made for eclipses must have an optical density of 5 — blacking out all but 1/100,000th of the sunlight, even infrared.

Mellinger said the next total eclipse visible in Michigan will be in April 2024, but most Mitten state residents still will have to hop in the car.

Its path will clip the state just north of Toledo, Ohio.


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