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ASU offering access to ‘Great American Eclipse 2017’

June 8, 2017

Viewership for rare solar event to eclipse 1918 predecessor; School of Earth and Space Exploration to provide ways to view it

The “Great American Eclipse” is making a return engagement this summer.

On Aug. 21, the sun, moon and Earth will realign for a spectacular total solar eclipse event, one that will cast a shadow of darkness coast-to-coast across the contiguous United States for the first time in almost a century. It’s expected to be the most watched, most photographed and most televised astronomical event of a generation.

And why not? We have the technology.

Researchers and scientists at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration are gearing up for the big event and making sure the public has multiple options to witness what could only be seen by a fortunate few on June 8, 1918 — the last time the path of totality for a solar eclipse occurred over America.

As basis for comparison, consider this passage from the June 8, 1918, edition of the Topeka (Kansas) State Journal, where 90 percent of a normal day’s sunlight plunged into darkness as a result of the eclipse: “Those who will be lucky enough to make the journey to any of the towns over which the shadow of the eclipse will appear will do well to get as near the center of the favored zone as possible. It will not be necessary to take a telescope, but a smoked or dark glass can be used to advantage to watch the progress of the moon in its preliminary phase, the glass should be discarded as soon as the totality arrives.”

“Observations in 1918 were mostly limited to the human eye and photographic plates,” said Patrick Young, an astrophysicist who will be representing ASU in IdahoIdaho is one of the states in the eclipse's path of totality and one of the closest destinations to witness the total solar eclipse for people in Arizona. for the observance of the upcoming total solar eclipse. “There wasn’t even a reliable color photo process at the time, so scientists employed artists to paint the eclipse.”

It did, however, mark what Young describes as the first use of what we might consider a modern scientific instrument in eclipse observations: a photoelectric photometer.

A photoelectric photometer. Photo by John Dickel/National Park Service

Flash-forward 99 years and the recommendations for an immersive eclipse experience quickly reminds us of the journey traveled and advancements made to connect with our Solar System. On Aug. 21, ASU’s School of Earth and Science Exploration will provide access to the eclipse through live-streaming broadcasts; a 3-D theater presentation in the Marston Exploration Theater in Tempe; and outdoor solar telescopes for public use.

Still, even in the midst of limited technology in 1918, the uniqueness and universality of the eclipse was far from lost on observers. As the Topeka State Journal accurately and excitedly pointed out for the times: “Not until 2017 will another total solar eclipse be visible over so large an area of this country, and it is rare that an eclipse track anywhere in the world offers so great a choice of accessible sites for observing the eclipse.”

Young agrees with the awe felt during a total solar eclipse, sharing his own experience in seeing one in Europe in 1999.

“Words can’t do justice to the experience of totality,” he said. “For those in the path, in the instant before the moon covers the sun completely you'll see the diamond ring effect, where the sunlight shines through gaps between mountains on the lunar limb. Everything changes at totality. It will be much darker. Many people can feel a temperature drop. The wispy solar corona will extend several times the sun's size into the surrounding sky. With luck or a small telescope or binoculars you'll be able to see bright pink prominences near the limb.”

The eclipse's list of 'firsts'

What also makes the “Great American Eclipse” an anomaly this year is the fact that the path of totality will occur exclusively within one country — the first such occurrence since America gained its independence in 1776. Other widely reported firsts related to the 2017 eclipse:

  • First total solar eclipse visible from the United States since July 1991, when an eclipse passed through a part of Hawaii.
  • First solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since February 1979, when the phenomenon moved across the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

Path — past and projected

In 1918, the path of the total solar eclipse began in the Borodino Islands south of Japan, crossed the Pacific Ocean and then moved west to east through the United States — from Washington to Florida — before finishing near Bermuda. The largest city to see totality was Denver.

This year, the eclipse is expected to begin in the middle of the North American Pacific Ocean, then travel across at least 14 states, from Oregon through South Carolina. Millions of Americans living within the corridor of the path of totality will experience about two minutes and 40 seconds of darkness. The maximum duration of totality will occur over Illinois, according to Young. Everyone in the continental United States will get at least a partial eclipse this time around.

Map of the path of the total solar eclipse happening in August 2017
The path of totality for this year's solar eclipse is expected to travel across states from Oregon through South Carolina. Image by NASA

 The next total solar eclipse after the 2017 event is not too far off — April 8, 2024. The path for that eclipse will be visible across North America and Central America.

Safety first

In witnessing this rare event, Young urges everyone to take precautions.

“It’s an impressive thing to see with proper eye protection,” he said. “Even part of the sun is dangerously bright, so do not look at it without protection. ... There are special eclipse glasses that are available from various sources. Do a little research and make sure they come from a reputable company. Welding glass works as a filter, and solar filters are available for telescopes.”

ASU eclipse research  

Young and other members of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration will be in Idaho to cover the total eclipse on Aug. 21. While Young assists in coordinating the capture of a virtual-reality experience for those who can’t make it to the path of totality, Associate Research Professional Sheri Klug will be representing ASU at a NASA event. Young says most of the science they will explore will focus on the interface between the sun’s visible surface and its tenuous atmosphere.

“This transfer of energy and the behavior of the sun's magnetic field at its surface are incredibly complex and only partially understood processes, and the eclipse gives us a unique opportunity to make observations of the lower atmosphere of the sun in many wavelengths of light without being overwhelmed.”

Top photo courtesy of NASA/The Exploratorium

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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ASU archivist makes Japanese Internment Camp Collection digitally accessible

ASU Library's online archive collections show commitment to open access.
June 8, 2017

Robert Spindler says publicly available, searchable resources allow a new look at a dark chapter of U.S. history

Uncomfortable as it may be, one way to avoid the mistakes of the past is to confront them — one of the reasons preservation of historical documents is so important, said Arizona State University archivist Robert Spindler.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order that cleared the way for the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II, a dark chapter of U.S. history that underscores the fact that xenophobia is not a recent phenomenon.

During the past couple of years, Spindler (pictured above) has helped to digitize a rare collection of newsletters and photographs from Arizona’s Japanese internment camps. The collection, a collaboration between the ASU Library Arizona Collection and the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, contains more than 5,000 pages of bilingual camp newsletters, now publicly available and text-searchable via the ASU Library Digital Repository.

“Over the decades, there’s been a fair amount of scholarship and exhibit work and historical interpretation done regarding the Japanese internment camps,” Spindler said. “But having this content searchable enables more research; a new look at this history.”

The collection tells the everyday life stories of the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans interned in Arizona’s two campsMore than 13,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center, southeast of Phoenix on the Gila River Indian Reservation, and more than 17,000 were sent to Arizona's other internment camp, the Poston Relocation Center on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. for three years during one of our country’s most difficult periods.

There are stories of baseball games, prom dresses and church services — and stories of soldiers who fought bravely for a country they loved “despite the great tragedy of internment,” as Spindler put it.

“There is deep and amazing patriotism expressed in these pages,” he said. “[Despite] the separation of families … and the loss of their businesses, the loss of their homes … they endured, and they pulled together as a community. That shows what it’s really like to be a patriot, to be a person who still believes in your country, even though the chips are down … and, in this extreme case, you’ve been unjustly incarcerated. That is real patriotism, and that, in my mind, is the greatest story here.”

When Spindler began working on the project in 2015, he had a massive amount of digitized image files that needed to be shrunk in order to be presented online in a user-friendly way. He taught himself how to use Adobe Acrobat to shrink the files and used the software’s optical character recognition feature to make the scanned images text-searchable.

“It’s really basic digital librarianship, but from a user standpoint it’s transformational,” he said. “Now you can search for your family members, or search for information about schools, or information about the baseball teams, or the other day-to-day things that are featured in these papers.”

Having the collection available online also reduces the handling and associated degradation of the physical copies of the newsletters and photographs.

An important aspect of the collection, Spindler said, is that it honors ASU and its partners’ commitment to open access.

“There are some organizations who have business models where they digitize materials and they try to generate revenue from the result of that work. Sometimes that’s the only way you can get this work done,” he said. “Then there are other institutions that can build collaborations that are dedicated to open access to material.

“So our work here at ASU has centered largely around trying to clear the rights for materials and to make materials open access. What that means, in a very practical sense, is that when you go to our site, not only can you download and search these materials but you could also repurpose this content in any way you choose.”

One thing about the collection Spindler found especially intriguing were the pages of the newsletters that are in Japanese.

“I’m really interested to find out what they were saying,” he said, adding that figuring that out “would be an outstanding graduate student project or faculty research project. But ultimately, anyone globally can work with this material, which is part of the fun of doing this work.”

Collection highlights also include cartoons from the newsletters and special holiday editions. Spindler and colleagues have been gradually acquiring more materials over the years, and he said there’s a possibility they may reach out to the Arizona Historical Society in Papago Park, which has a color motion-picture film documenting the construction of the camps that would make a nice addition.

“So there’s still some other materials we can bring forward to make this a richer collection,” he said, “but ultimately I hope the project honors the sacrifice, honors the community and maybe in some small way apologizes for the terrible injustice of internment.”


Top photo: Rob Spindler, the archivist of special collections at ASU's Hayden Library, looks over copies of the Gila News-Courier in the Luhr's Reading Room on May 4. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now