It was a first for Lander University – and likely one that no other Lander class will ever experience again.
In what may prove to be the school’s all-time biggest event to start a new term, more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff were on campus Aug. 21, 2017, to witness the Great American Solar Eclipse.
And for many, the eclipse far exceeded expectations.
“It was way better than what I expected,” said Ashley Hampton, a music major.
“For me, it was jaw-dropping,” said Chaz Giles, a senior mass communications major. “You could hear the cicadas come out – and it was great that I got to see it.”
Preparations for the event began early, with crews arriving just after dawn setting up for a campus-wide picnic with tables, tents and inflatables on the front lawn near the fountain.
Following the annual Opening Convocation, crowds gradually began assembling, setting up camp around the fountain, in the shade with chairs or blankets, and sporting umbrellas and hats to battle the unrelenting summer heat.
Everyone wanting to see the eclipse was provided with a certified pair of solar viewing glasses – and after waiting for more than two hours under the sun, the excited crowd watched the sky darken – slowly at first, then as if night was coming early.
Then there it was – the moon covering the sun in a way that freshman Macy Sinner called “surreal.”
“Seeing it get dark and then feeling the temperature drop – it was really cool that I got to experience this,” said Sinner, who was all smiles at the end.
Had Sinner been alive to see this kind of phenomenon 1,000-2,500 years ago, she might have thought the world was about to experience something really bad.
“Ancient peoples thought eclipses were bad omens,” said Dr. Bob McLaren, associate director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, who was the special guest speaker at the day’s Opening Convocation. “The Chinese, for, instance thought a dragon was coming to eat the sun.”
And world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking once explained in a Grand Design documentary how the Vikings blamed a sky god called Skoll for eclipses – responding in “the only way that made sense to them.”
“They tried to scare away Skoll (by shouting him down from the sun),” Hawking said. “The Vikings believed their actions caused the sun to return.”
As for Lander physics instructor Michelle Deady, she wished something could have made the 2017 eclipse remain a while.
“I wish it could have lasted longer – it was amazing,” said Deady, a member of the university’s Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse team, known as Citizen CATE.
The three-member team included IT Technical Services Manager Kelly Hughes, and Dr. David Slimmer, professor of physics and dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.
Together, they recorded 800-1,000 eclipse images from the Lander plaza – one of more than 60 U.S. observation sites selected across the path of totality to be part of an end-to-end documentation of what the solar corona looked like and how it reacted during the time of the eclipse.
“It was everything we put into it and more,” Hughes said.
Slimmer added, “With us being a part of this project, I hope that going forward it invokes a lot more student interest in science here at Lander.”
Lander was one of five locations in South Carolina selected as an official observation site.
But you didn’t have to tell that to the crowd who cheered for totality when it arrived and again when it departed – thereby launching the 2017-18 Lander school year in a way that might have had even the Vikings shouting for more.
“I couldn’t invent a better way to start a new school year,” said Lander University President Richard Cosentino. “I’m proud that we were a prime viewing spot for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and everyone at Lander who witnessed it will remember and cherish it all of their lives.”