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Cosmic celebration

UMass experiences the Great North American Eclipse

On Monday, April 8, 2024, people at UMass Amherst enjoyed a rare celestial treat: a solar eclipse. While Amherst was not in the path of totality, viewers were able to see 94 percent coverage, and the excitement was certainly palpable.

Metawampe Lawn was filled with students, staffers, and members of the public, all gathered to grab a free pair of eclipse glasses and experience an amazing astronomical event together. The mood was positive, with smiling groups of people watching the event, taking pictures, and enjoying the first warm spring day after two weeks of frosty, gray New England weather.

Dean Michael Fox of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) estimated that there were more than 1,000 people on the lawn as the eclipse neared its peak. CNS staffers and members of the Astronomy Club handed out thousands of pairs of eclipse glasses, and a playlist of sun- and moon-themed songs played for the crowd at the “Star Party.” Hundreds of people also joined in the fun at a second location: the UMass Sunwheel. At both locations, astronomers were on hand to advise the crowd about the progress of the event and relay some of the scientific principles involved.

In the days leading up to the eclipse, Dean Fox advised UMass social media followers on how to view it safely, and Daniela Calzetti, chair of the astronomy department, answered questions people had sent in over Instagram. CNS also donated more than 30,000 pairs of eclipse glasses to local public schools and senior centers in Amherst and a dozen surrounding towns so that area residents could view the rare event safely.

As the eclipse progressed, the air cooled, and shadows lengthened on the lawn—a strange look for mid-afternoon. The crowd burst into waves of spontaneous cheering several times near the peak of the eclipse at about 3:28 p.m. Outside of commencement, it felt like the largest gathering on campus since before the pandemic. Everywhere you turned, people were looking up.

See how the community turned out for this special event.

Two students stand by a camera, waiting to photograph the eclipse.

Ningyuan Yang ’27 (right) studies animal science but enjoys photography as a hobby. With his friend Isik Uluson ’27 (left), who studies computer science, he rigged up a solar filter for his camera using the shades from a pair of eclipse glasses, some cardboard, and tape, and was excited to share the images he captured.
Photo: Lori Shine

Various stages of the eclipse photographed through a solar filter.

A composite of images taken over the course of the eclipse.
Photo: Ningyuan Yang

A person in sunglasses and a hat holds up handfuls of eclipse glasses.

Jiaqing Wu ’27 is a first-year astronomy student and a member of the Astronomy Club who volunteered to hand out eclipse glasses on Metawampe Lawn. She was excited to see so many people participate and show enthusiasm for the eclipse.
Photo: Lori Shine

A crowd of people gathered to watch the eclipse.

A huge crowd gathered on Metawampe Lawn to experience this rare event together.
Photo: Lori Shine

A person in eclipse glasses poised with a camera pointed at the sun.

Shruthi Sivasubramanian ’24 set up her camera to watch the eclipse and try to photograph it.
Photo: Lori Shine

A professor with a microphone addresses the crowd on the lawn.

Min Yun, astronomy professor, was on hand to give the crowd the scientific context for what they were witnessing.
Photo: Jay Johnson

A group of adults and children pose for the camera.

Terrance Proctor (left) who works in UMass Construction and Ellisha Walker ’17 (fourth from left), who is also an Amherst town councilor at-large, joined with family members to view the eclipse. Walker commented on how wonderful it was that the public was invited to join in this event. The young girl on the left excitedly shared that this was her first eclipse.
Photo: Lori Shine

A person holding up a cardboard pinhole camera and looking at its shadow.

Bingqing Sun, astronomy PhD candidate, used a pinhole camera she made to view the eclipse.
Photo: Lori Shine

The words “Amherst 2024” spelled out in crescent-shaped dots of light on a table.

A pinhole camera with a special message captured the crescent shape of the eclipse near its peak.
Photo: Bingqing Sun

Friends in eclipse glasses sit in a group on the grass.

A group of friends were all smiles as they gathered to watch the eclipse.
Photo: Lori Shine