IGES and the Great American Eclipse

September 1, 2017

On August 21, 2017, millions of people across North America shared the once-in-a lifetime experience of a total solar eclipse. The IGES team was busy supporting eclipse activities across the country, as well as taking time to marvel at this phenomenon. Here are some of our stories from the field.

Thousands of citizen scientists across North America contributed to GLOBE Observer Eclipse citizen science project, including taking air temperature and cloud observations. There were over 107,000 observations taken throughout the day, including 61,000 cloud photos, which IGES staff – Rusty Low, Cassie Soeffing, Andrew Clark, and Theresa Schwerin – helped review and approve as part of the NASA Earth Science Education Collaborative.

NASA GLOBE Observer visualization of air temperature data collected collected by citizen scientists across North America


John Ensworth presenting on the eclipse

John Ensworth spent the weeks leading up to the eclipse in a flurry of public and educational outreach. He wrote a series of articles educating readers on what to look for, and how to figure out where to go, for the path of totality. John was interviewed by the Denver Post concerning the upcoming eclipse. He delivered a talk and Q&A session at Resurrection Christian School to over 500 elementary school students. He spoke to over 60 people at the Little Thompson Observatory on apps and Websites that would be useful leading up to and during the eclipse. Up in Lusk, WY (where he was to view the eclipse), he presented the night sky to over 25 townspeople relating the constellations, lore, stars, and planets in the nighttime sky to the eclipse.


Rusty’s GLOBE Observer Data

Back in June, Rusty Low was excited to find out that her husband had a research project scheduled in Wyoming right along the line of totality. But his team quickly realized that they would have to reschedule their fieldwork because there was no accommodation for the project personnel anywhere for a few days before and after the eclipse- sold out! So, they postponed the fieldwork and Rusty stayed home. Since she was not traveling, she was on the Help Desk all day Sunday, August 20, answering questions for the GLOBE Observer Eclipse app. Monday, Rusty hosted an eclipse party with her neighbors, including her mom, Fahy, who is 82. Their location, Boulder, Colorado was at 93%, and it was spectacular. The temperature dropped perceptibly, and even the background nature noises quieted during the eclipse from their viewing site in the Rocky Mountains. The neighborhood used the app to track the changes in temperature and also made cloud observations. They noticed the clouds rapidly responding to the changes in air temperature. The next two days Rusty also reviewed GLOBE Observer cloud photos taken by eclipse watchers across the U.S. and was pleased to see so many people take time out from the rset of their lives to experience one of nature’s finest shows!



As a member of a school board in Alaska, and because students were still on summer break on August 21, Liz Burck recorded a message for the school website encouraging students and parents to view the eclipse (even though it was only at ~50% at 60° N latitude). Then, she packed up her set of solar eclipse glasses, flew to Colorado to pick up her granddaughters (ages 7, 5, and 4), and drove to Torrington, WY, for a clear view of totality. Watching that phenomenon with her granddaughters was a moment of “science-bonding” that each of them will always remember. They loudly laughed and quietly marveled at the same time. What a day!


Family taking GLOBE Observer air temperature observations at the Outdoor Campus, Sioux Falls



The morning sky in Sioux Falls, SD, started out clear and all optimistically thought it would be a great viewing for the event. But by the time Cassie Soeffing got to the Outdoor Campus to help with their pop-up eclipse event, the sky had changed to not just overcast but eerily black. Sioux Falls ended up receiving over 4″ of rain in 3 hours. Over fifty families had signed up and there were occasional moments, albeit brief, to run out and enjoy the show. Everyone made moonpies inside, and the kids had journals to record sights and sounds outside. Everyone who signed up came – it was a great day, despite the weather.






Totality over Charleston, SC. Credit: Bob Kay

It was a novel that first sparked Theresa Schwerin’s interest in solar eclipses – “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”  Growing up, Mark Twain was one of her favorite authors and the idea of someone using a total solar eclipse to trick people into thinking you could control the sun? Now that captured her imagination. So the Great American Eclipse of 2017 was the opportunity to cross off an item on her bucket list and visit family in Charleston, SC, where she grew up. The weather forecast for August 21 was not looking good, with thunderstorms predicted for Charleston. The day started out with huge cumulous clouds on a deep blue sky, which became increasingly overcast as the day progressed. The family gathered in her niece’s backyard, and as 2:47 totality approached the weather was touch and go. But even as they could hear thunder to the west, the clouds cleared just around the sun and they got to experience all of totality, before the pouring rain started about 20 minutes later.  That was the shortest two minutes of her life, easily trumping a fictional story of someone pretending to blot the sun from the sky!


The eclipse presented an opportunity to conduct an authentic science investigation and also serves as the perfect segue into other related topics.  Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, Theresa Schwerin and Liz Burck wrote a blog for NASA Wavelength, “Let the Eclipse Begin,” that highlighted several educational resources to jump start learning for all ages.


Pinhole eclipse viewers formed by tree leaves


Despite initial plans to venture into the path of totality near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Andrew Clark was deterred by the high traffic volume forecasted for the entire east coast. He instead stayed close to home, and passed out eclipse glasses to his neighbors and friends that had gathered by the lake. In addition to sharing the solar eclipse glasses, he enjoyed pointing out the natural pinhole viewers created by gaps between the deep green leaves of Virginia’s August foliage.