Students Share the Experience of Totality

Posted on May 21, 2024 by Arts and Sciences
Arts and Sciences


In what seems to now be a growing tradition, the University of South Alabama’s physics department joined the Honors College on a field trip to experience the total solar eclipse on April 8. They shared a similar adventure back in August 2017. 

More than fifty faculty, staff and friends traveled to Hector, Arkansas, northeast of Russellville. This was the closest predicted spot in the “path of totality,” where the moon’s umbra (Latin for “shadow”) would travel from Mexico to Maine over the course of two and a half hours.  

The group experienced “totality” for more than four minutes, using eclipse-viewing filters and several telescopes. Physics professor Dr. Albert Gapud captured the students’ rapturous reaction to the unforgettable experience.

Among the group were seven students who were taking (or had completed) Gapud’s Introduction to Astronomy class (PH 101). Freshman Daniel P. Smith described the moon’s silhouette “[g]azing down on us from the sky [as] a pitch black disk surrounded by a blazing white ring of light. The corona, looking like a pure cloud of glowing smoke, shot out of it in all directions into thin spikes. I felt in that moment something…that seemed as if it should only exist in fiction.” 

Keeping a careful record over the four minutes, Smith also reported a temperature drop of 45 degrees. Freshman Noah P. Oliver IV, who brought his own 10 inch Dobsonian reflecting telescope, captured clear views of the corona and prominences in the chromosphere which are visible only during totality. 

Afterwards, graduating senior Diala Bouriaque, while amazed by the experience, also poignantly echoed much of the group’s sentiment that “the trip is not about the process, nor even the destination. It's about the people who come along with you.”

Dean Doug Marshall from the Honors College witnessed, for the second time, the experience’s deep impact on the students. He’s hopeful that this eclipse-trip tradition will continue, with sights set on the 2045 total solar eclipse – this time, closer to home, over central Alabama. 

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