Two Drury Professors, part of National Eclipse Study, Hope Project Encourages Citizen Science

Aug 25, 2017

During a total eclipse, scientists can more easily observe a specific outer layer of the sun, called the corona.
Credit Missouri State University

Two Drury University professors on the front lines of this week’s total solar eclipse hope their cosmic experience positively impacts the community.

Dr. Bruce Callen and Dr. Greg Ojakangas, professors in Drury’s Physics Department, studied the eclipse for the National Solar Observatory (NSO). It was a part of the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment, or Citizen CATE.

Callen feels Monday’s eclipse is sparking interest in others who have not explored this field before. He said the eclipse drew a large amount of attention to science, given the public – in addition to top researches - could take part in the experience.

“There are going to be people from five to 25 that are going to find their life’s calling because (their calling) was pushed along by the amazing event that occurred,” Callen said.

Citizen CATE takes on scientific research by encouraging the community to observe the world around them. An interesting aspect of CATE, Callen shared, is that coordinators of the project recruited “citizen scientists” to aid in photographing the sun. Callen said participants with Citizen CATE could range from professors to a “passionate, amateur astronomer.”

The project supplied equipment to 68 teams across the country in the line of totality. It aimed to gain insight on a specific layer of the sun, and further new discoveries of, as Callen described, “(a) fairly mysterious part of the sun.”

Studying the outermost layer of the sun is a challenging feat, but during a total eclipse scientists can observe a layer called the inner corona with more precision.

Callen and Ojakangus set up their equipment from Citizen CATE in Hermann, Missouri, along the Missouri River, within the path of totality. They worked with a team from Drury including students Ryan Wedermyer and Katelyn Morrison.

Ojakangas said as the last ray of sunlight disappeared and totality set in the team was left in awe.

“I’m getting chills thinking about it,” Ojakagas said. “There is no way to explain the emotional impact of seeing such a huge cosmic event happen before our eyes … And then to look around and everyone around you are all hugging each other because it (feels like) we saw God together.”

You’d be hard pressed it not be one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen, he added.

“To see right on time … the last rays of sun disappear. It was absolutely spectacular. It eclipses everything else you can possibly see in the sky, no pun intended.”

The data collected by these teams will be sent to NSO researchers. According to Callen, the photographs taken during the eclipse will be compiled into a movie to observe the behavior of the inner corona during totality across the US.