With classes paused from 1-3 p.m., UNC Asheville kicked off the fall 2017 semester with a celebration of the Great American Eclipse. The campus Quad came alive as students, faculty, and staff gathered together to experience the once-in-a-lifetime event with sun and moon-themed music, yoga, a special eclipse ice cream flavor from local favorite The Hop, and of course, telescopes and certified solar glasses and viewers.
After many months of planning, Stephanie Franklin, director of transition and parent programs, got to see her vision of the event come to fruition.
“The Solar Eclipse Committee wanted to make sure we incorporated a balance of education and fun into the event. In the midst of all that is going on in our country and the world, I really enjoyed seeing our faculty, staff and students come together as a community and allow this historic experience to bind us together at the start of a new academic year,” Franklin said.
For senior literature major Austin Dowdy, the eclipse was a memorable way to reconnect with friends after the summer. “Between the activities, the collective excitement of the entire campus community, and of course the sun- and moon- themed snacks, it was definitely a start to a semester that I will never forget," he reflected.
While rain clouds rolled in during the maximum eclipse time, they didn’t dampen the experience. At 2:37 p.m., the temperature cooled and the light faded. Mid-afternoon suddenly turned to dusk. Aside from some oohs and aahs, the Quad fell silent as everyone gazed up at the sky together.
“Although we only experienced a 99 percent eclipse in Asheville, the event on the Quad was a 100 percent perfect way to begin the semester. From the music to the food and fellowship, it was clear we were experiencing something special together as a campus community,” said Executive Assistant Sarah Humphries, who was also the emcee at the eclipse event.
Some students experienced their first day at UNC Asheville without actually being at UNC Asheville. Senior Lecturer in Physics Judy Beck and Assistant Professor of Physics James Perkins took a busload of freshman astronomy students to Furman University in Greenville, S.C., to experience the eclipse in totality.
The group left UNC Asheville bright and early to beat the predicted eclipse traffic, and used their spare time at Furman to create solar-eclipse viewers from shoeboxes, learn how to set up and operate solar telescopes, and read a selection of essays and articles about solar eclipses.
“I was originally planning on seeking a totality viewing with some friends or on my own, but I am very glad I was able to travel and view the eclipse with my classmates,” said freshman Nathan Koerschner. “It was interesting to be around people I didn’t know previously throughout the hours before and after the eclipse, and I think experiencing it together will have a lasting effect on my relationships with those people.”
The UNC Asheville group and other visitors to Furman gathered in the soccer field to watch the eclipse, while the bulk of the crowd convened in the football stadium. As the moon began its pass between the earth and the sun, the Furman Marching Band began to play, and excited yells echoed across Furman’s campus. The sky darkened and the land was thrown into shadow as the moon covered more and more of the sun, and the hot South Carolina day began to cool. A collective hush across the campus exploded into cheers at the moment of totality, and everyone pulled off their solar eclipse viewing glasses to admire the corona, now visible around the edges of the blackened moon.
“Viewing the eclipse in totality became one of the most beautiful and stunning things I had ever seen,” said freshman Ginevra Walker. “The moments leading up to it with the sudden darkness and drastic changes of saturation of the world made me feel like I was on a different planet.”
Totality only lasted a little over two minutes, but it was an experience that will last forever in the memories of the students who witnessed it.
“It was purple,” freshman Holt Mettee said, describing the event. “But not a purple I had ever seen before…. The colors were strange and beautiful and surreal. I feel wonderfully lucky, small, grateful, awestruck and humbled.”
“The beauty of the eclipse at totality is something I will never forget, and it was a great way to start my freshman year of college,” said Megan Runkel.
For information on stargazes and other events in Asheville, visit the Lookout Observatory website.