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Students Gather to Witness Rare Solar Eclipse at UNH

UNH students, community members and astronomy enthusiasts came together for the rare opportunity to witness a solar eclipse.
The UNH community enjoying the solar eclipse on April 8. (University of New Hampshire)

On April 8, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) held a solar eclipse viewing event on Thompson Hall Lawn (T-Hall) from 2- 4 p.m. Students gathered with friends on picnic blankets to witness a rare eclipse that will not happen again until 2044.

The atmosphere of T-Hall was buzzing as anticipation filled the air for the near-total eclipse of the sun. The spring weather only heightened the excitement; many students brought outdoor activities like a football to toss around, and someone set up a slackline. 

The maximum coverage of the sun happened around 3:30 p.m., according to UNH’s eclipse viewing announcement on their website.   

Mia Ramsden, a second-year student in attendance, shared what she saw while watching the eclipse. 

“At first, with my glasses on, I only saw a little sliver of the sun, and then over the course of like an hour, more than half of the sun was gone,” she said. 

Ramsden described what the maximum coverage of the eclipse was like. 

“After an hour and a half, [the sun] was almost a full crescent. When it reached 3:30, everybody started clapping… it was just a tiny little sliver,” Ramsden said.

Jeremy Gasowski, the university’s photographer, described how exciting it was to see so many people gather on T-Hall to witness the eclipse. 

“It’s just awesome to see everyone out here right now, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Gasowski.

Shelden Oliver, a second-year student created the artistic design for the protective solar eclipse glasses complete with the university’s logo, a hashtag for social media posts, and a QR code for more information about the event.

“I knew that I needed them to be New Hampshire-esque,” she said. “I feel like I had to use the blues and the greens [of the sky and pine trees] to accentuate New Hampshire, and the fact that it’s happening in New Hampshire, that’s so cool.”

The UNH community enjoying the solar eclipse on April 8. (University of New Hampshire)

UNH had a table on T-Hall handing out the protective eyewear. A large group full of eager students formed to secure a pair of protective glasses to watch the eclipse without damaging their eyes, and the supply of glasses ran out.

Francois Foucart, an astrophysics professor at UNH, provided insight into how rare this eclipse was, and the importance of it. 

“When the moon passes in front of the sun because the moon is relatively small, only a small part of the Earth is actually in the shadow,” he said. That’s why Durham was lucky to view the eclipse at 95% totality. 

“[Solar eclipses were] the best way before we had rockets that could actually measure and could navigate from point to point, one of the best ways to measure what the relative sizes and distances in the solar system are,” said Foucart. 

Robbin Ray, director of media relations at UNH, said that planning for the event started back in December. Ray said that it was inspired by multiple other “eclipse-related projects” happening at UNH. 

“There was an outreach program led by two UNH professors to share information about the eclipse with teachers and students in the state and UNH Extension had developed a special eclipse website that offered a lot of helpful information and a few videos on what an eclipse is and how to view it safely,” said Ray, reflecting on the event’s inspiration.

Ray said that she coordinated the eclipse viewing at T-Hall, but it was a group effort by UNH Marketing, the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, and the UNH Observatory.

“The UNH community really came together for the event and everyone was so enthusiastic. It was a rare opportunity to experience a solar eclipse right here in Durham and what a better reason to all gather together. When I arrived at 1 pm, there were already a few hundred people camped out on the lawn just hanging out. It was great to see everyone so excited,” said Ray.

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