Totality: Preparing for a once in a lifetime experience

Ada Jones | Staff Writer |

Professor Alain Brizard is utterly excited for the eclipse happening on April 8, 2024.

For the first time since 1932, Vermont will be on the path of totality of a solar eclipse. Although the event is not happening until April 8, people are already preparing for this special event.  

Professor Alain Brizard, chair of the physics department at St. Michael’s College is one of those people preparing for it. He’s organizing a talk, creating an educational website for the community and helping lead a guided event to make this once in a lifetime experience readily available to the whole St. Michael’s community.

     A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in between the Earth and the sun, which causes the moon to cast a shadow onto the Earth. Professor Brizard said solar eclipses are rare because the moon and the Earth orbit on different planes. “The plane of the moon is about five degrees different—and that’s a key part, if the moon was on the ecliptic plane, we would get an eclipse every month,” Brizard said.

     A partial eclipse was visible from campus in 2017, yet this one will be totally different. “So this time we are right in the path of what is called totality, and totality here means that for about three and a half minutes the surface of the Sun will be completely covered by the Moon.” Brizard said. 

     Being in the path of totality makes this event for most people, a once in a lifetime experience. Vermont won’t see another total solar eclipse for about 50-60 years in the future. For about three and a half minutes it will be dark outside as if it’s nighttime and the temperature will drop, making this event unlike any other.

     To prepare for this event Brizard will be giving the St. Michael’s community a guided event while keeping it free to faculty and students. At 5 p.m. on April 3 in McCarthy Arts Center, he will be giving a talk about all things solar eclipse, which will be open to the public as well as the college community.

  Student volunteers from his classes will help lead a guided viewing event on campus in front of the St. Michael’s Chapel on the day of the eclipse. These student volunteers will help the faculty and students, telling them where to look and explain what is occurring. This will all be free to students and faculty on campus. Whereas the town of Burlington is expecting an influx in visitors for the day. Commuting into the Burlington area will be a challenge on the day of the eclipse as the city and state are anticipating a lot of visitors, and finding parking will be even trickier. Burlington’s in the midst of figuring out logistics for an event that might take place if they can find enough porta potties for everyone. The Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport is holding an event, although general admissions are $100. 

A diagram showing the specifics of a total solar eclipse. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Greta Pangborn, associate professor of Computer Science, is St. Michael’s liaison with University of Vermont’s Space Grant Committee. She sits on their committee and has heard all about UVM’s preparation for the event as well as Burlington’s. According to Pangborn they’re anticipating over 100,000 people to come to Burlington for this event. Knowing this, makes viewing the eclipse from campus pretty appealing. “Get your safety glasses from the physics department!” Pangborn said.

Although this event is a once in a lifetime experience for most, this will be Max Noddings ’24, second total eclipse. In August of 2017, Noddings was in Sun Valley, Idaho visiting his grandparents and discovered he would be in the path of totality. Many people paid to take the chairlift to the top of the Bald Mountain, where there was an event being held, but Noddings took a hike. To the south of Sun Valley is completely open land, making it a good place to see the shadow as the moon moved across the sun.       “[It] started to get dark, and then cold, and then black and that was nuts,” Noddings said. “You were in this pocket of darkness.” Noddings hopes Vermont will be just as sunny as it was in Sun Valley to get the full experience again, especially right here on campus. Campus will be in totality beginning at 3:26 p.m. and ending at 3:29 p.m. on April 8, for a once in a lifetime experience on campus.