ASTRONOMY LESSON

Students get stellar show on first day back

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“It looks like an Apple on the phone, without the leaves. It’s just cool. I don’t know how to explain it,” Kilgore Middle School sixth grader Aidan Moore said looking up at the partial eclipse Monday. “It’s tiny and you can see it’s like Pac-Man. It’s yellow. You can see the rays of heat coming off of it.”
While the excitement over the “Great American Eclipse” grew throughout the last month, astronomers began looking ahead to Monday’s celestial event 85 years ago when viewing the Aug. 31, 1932, eclipse.
Leander McCormick Observatory’s second director Samuel Alfred Mitchell predicted in 1932 that 2017 would provide the next best opportunity to view the solar eclipse, noting the 1970 total solar eclipse would only be viewable in Florida with other eclipses taking place in inaccessible areas of Canada (in 1945 and 1954) or under the potential threat of a blizzard (in 1979).
“We are thus forced to the amazing conclusion that in the future there will not be another opportunity to view a total eclipse of the sun from the continent of the United States, under conditions that are really favorable and promise scientific success, until the eclipses of Aug. 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024,” Mitchell stated in a 1932 New York Times article shared on Twitter by an investigative reporter with the news agency.
The prediction did not disappoint as students and adults in every corner of the United States marveled at the sight of the partial and, for those in a 70-mile path, total solar eclipse. The coast-to-coast solar eclipse was visible in all 50 states with Kilgore seeing 76.7 percent coverage.
For KISD students, the eclipse fell in the middle of the first day of school.
“We understand that this is history,” KMS Principal April Cox said. “This is, we hope, something that these students will not forget. There are several teachers here who were around at the last partial eclipse, and they remember it. They remember where they were when it happened, and we hope that this stays ingrained and that they were able to be a part of such a monumental experience of true science.”
With signed permission slips from parents, students at multiple KISD campuses went outside with their solar glasses in hand ready to – safely – view the eclipse. Others were able to watch NASA’s live eclipse feed on TV and at KMS on the big screen set up in the cafeteria.
“We learn about these things sitting in a classroom, but to go outside and experience it, it brings that connection and real world experience that we can say, ‘Ah, this is what they were talking about.’ That just enriches our teaching opportunities,” Cox said. “This is an opportunity of sometimes a lifetime for our students, so we wanted to make this important for our students and to give them that opportunity.”
Chandler Elementary School teacher Karie Bradley saw the last partial solar eclipse when she was in second grade and will be helping her second grade dual language students create time capsules to mark the event.
“It’s awesome. We’re excited,” she said.
When she viewed the eclipse in 1979, though, she had to view it with a pinhole projector.
The difference between the first eclipse she experienced and Mondays is simple: “You can look at it,” she said, noting she did not have glasses in 1979 to view the moon’s movement. “We just looked at the shadow on the ground the box made.”
To further demonstrate the science behind the eclipse, Bradley’s students created a craft project to demonstrate the movement of the moon in front of the sun and their interaction to create the eclipse.
“They haven’t experienced that,” Chandler Principal Cindy Lindley said about the students’ first views of the eclipse. “We’re always trying to teach them something. We can have them rotate around the moon, pretend they’re the moon and the sun, but until they see it, I don’t think they really get it. It’s good that this happened on a school day. The first day of school! I mean, what are the opportunities? So they come in and learn right away. They’re excited. They’re going to go in and journal about it, and then they compare and all that. Perfect science day for the first day.”
The partial eclipse was unlike anything KMS eclipse parent volunteer Juan Mora had ever experienced.
“When we were little, we didn’t have these [glasses]. I think that was pretty cool, and that was a good experience for these kids. Such a young age to get to see something like this… I’m glad they have done this for the kids. That was a great experience, even for me too.”
Fellow parent volunteer Syrena Witt said the timing was perfect to fall during the school year, so the students can have a safe environment to view the eclipse, even if they otherwise might not have known what to do or when to view it.
When KMS sixth grade science teacher Tracy Drury realized the eclipse would correlate with the first day of school, she tried to reserve 30 glasses through a Region 7 workshop, but was unable to get a spot due to the demand. She saw on NASA’s Facebook page, though, that there were free solar eclipse glasses available to teachers through Astronomers Without Borders. After speaking with Cox and filling out the request form, KMS received 475 free solar glasses from the organization with shipping and handling the only cost.
“It was awesome!” one of Drury’s students said, amazed by the fact that totality – when the sun is completely blocked by the moon – can be viewed with the naked eye.
In 2024, Kilgore will be only a few miles away from the path of totality with Gladewater and Highway 31 toward Tyler marking the eastern boundary of the path and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex on the western side.

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