Through freshman George Kamar’s pair of special safety glasses, Monday’s solar eclipse looked “a little like Pac-Man.”
It reminded senior Anthony Khalil of “a doughnut about to be eaten.”
Seventh-grader Irina Penanen described it as “the sun, with a slice out of it.”
In sync with campuses across the nation, students at La Cañada High School covered their eyes with “eclipse glasses” — 250 of which were donated by Jet Propulsion Laboratory — and peered skyward as the morning cooled slightly and its light gradually dimmed as the moon’s shadow grew on the Earth.
Students in 9th through 12th grades had a blast gazing through a large reflective telescope and utilizing the sunspotter solar telescope provided by science teacher Mark Ewoldsen. And the 7th- and 8th-graders on campus also got a special treat — a trio of JPL scientists showed up to help teacher Simon Constantinides explain the science behind maybe the most accessible total solar eclipse since the last one to touch the lower 48 states in 1979, and the first in 99 years to cross the United States.
Starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina, people on the ground saw the eclipse “in totality,” while those in Southern California witnessed about 62% of the sun temporarily disappear.
Hard to imagine many middle schools along the eclipse’s route had NASA types on hand for the historic event.
“I’d say just one,” Smith said.
“We’re lucky to have them close by,” LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold said. “The partnership we have is awesome.”
Booth’s daughter Elisa just started 7th grade, so when Gold reached out, he was happy to participate, and to recruit a couple of others — the only ones on the JPL campus who didn’t make the trip to Oregon, they joked — to join him.
Smith shared some historical perspective on humanity’s ever-improving reaction to eclipses.
“Just remember what it was like 10,000 years ago, standing in a field in the Middle East, and the sun suddenly goes dark, you must have thought the gods were mad,” he said. “But then about 3,000 years ago, the Babylonians and ancient Chinese, on opposite ends of the planet, started documenting those things, and so we’ve got clay tablets about something extraordinary happening.”
That was followed in 1915, Smith said, by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which disproved — with data collected during an eclipse — Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.
“Now,” Smith added, “we can predict eclipses within the second — how incredible is that, that we can measure the motion of planets, moons and suns across the sky with that kind of accuracy?”
And we continue to strive to learn more: Booth is part-time working on creating “fake eclipses” that will help them study the corona, those tendrils of heat extending out from the sun. The idea is that if they can block out starlight, they might be able to spot alien planets outside of our solar system.
Sharing their work with a gym full of middle-schoolers was a different experience.
Some of them asked questions, many of them paid real attention and all of them cheered loudly when the lights went out as the webcast being projected onto screens depicted the totality of the eclipse in the Pacific Northwest.
“We will see a spike in participation and degrees correlated to this group that’s getting exposed [to the eclipse] for the first time,” Smith said. “Someone in this room thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is what I want to do.’ And this happened all around the country — and think about the kids in the path of totality who see this extraordinary alignment that could be predicted by science. They’re going to be so inspired.”