More than 1,500 members of the New Haven community came to Yale’s campus on Monday to view the solar eclipse at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium.
At the event, volunteers gave out 500 pairs of solar eclipse glasses, pinhole projectors and readings with information about the sun and the eclipse. The observatory also provided the public with the use of three solar telescopes and three sunspotters, which volunteers helped set up and use throughout the event.
“Many astronomers, both professional and amateur, can recall their first look through a telescope which heightened their interest in astronomy,” said Robert Zinn, astronomy professor and one of the volunteers at the event. “The event held [Monday] at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium may be the spark that ignites the interest of several young astronomers to be.”
In addition to the eclipse glasses and solar telescopes, the observatory had telescopes set up that projected images of the sun — providing a view that many people could see at once — and multiple projections of NASA livestreams of the eclipse.
In New Haven, the eclipse covered about 68 percent of the sun at its peak, according to NASA.
Astronomy lecturer and director of the Leitner Observatory Michael Faison took the lead organizing the viewing, along with Chunyang Ding ’19, Dominic Eggerman ’18 and Victoria Misenti, coordinator of Yale research observatories and undergraduate registrar. With several members of the astronomy faculty serving as volunteers, Zinn said that the department believed this would be a great opportunity to educate the public and help them enjoy the celestial event.
The turnout for the viewing far exceeded the expectations of the organizers — which consisted of six astronomy faculty members and about two dozen students, according to astronomy and physics professor Marla Geha, who volunteered at the event. Ding noted that lines around the observatory had formed hours before the 1 p.m. start time.
According to Misenti, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people attended the eclipse viewing, coming both from Yale and from the New Haven area. Astronomy professor and event volunteer William van Altena said events like the viewing are important in raising science awareness and are a unique opportunity to talk with the public about astronomy.
Astronomy Department chair Sarbani Basu similarly emphasized the importance of the solar eclipse. With more than half of the nation living within 400 miles of the path of totality (where the moon would block 100 percent of the sun’s light) and 80 percent living within 600 miles of that area, the phenomenon served as an effective way to generate wider interest in astronomy and science, she said.
“Astronomy is a great way to reach out to people and have people wonder about the scale of the universe,” Ding said. “It was so cool to see children have this jaw-dropping moment when they saw the full sun and then a chunk taken out of it by the moon. It’s amazing to have that experience and to share that with so many people.”
While some viewed the eclipse through the telescopes or through the projectors, others sat together in the field outside the observatory. Participants — many of whom were families with small children — brought their own materials and shared eclipse glasses, astronomy professor and event volunteer Gregory Laughlin said. These tools ranged from homemade pinhole projectors to welding masks to colanders to view the shadow of the eclipse.
Laughlin added that the event brought people together through the communal excitement, resulting in a memorable experience for both the attendees and organizers. Zinn said public enthusiasm was contagious, and the astronomers and volunteers enjoyed the opportunity to meet and educate so many people.
Meanwhile, on central campus, students who had already arrived at Yale also gathered to watch the solar eclipse. Several of this year’s First-Year Counselors watched the eclipse together, according to Diego Fernandez-Pages ’18.
Fernandez-Pages added that the experience was incredibly unique and significant. “It felt good to be gathered for a collective event — especially considering half the country was out watching it,” he said.