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Eclipse is both personal and science learning experience

Eclipse is both personal and science learning experience

August 22nd, 2017 by Bob Watson in National News

James Weishuhn, of Legrange, TX looks to the eclipse as he waits his turn to visit NASA's Glenn Research Center's Journey to Tomorrow display held at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on Monday, August 21, 2017.

Photo by Tim Bommel/Special to the News Tribune

Janet Kavandi

Janet Kavandi

Photo by NASA

Tim Schmolzi, of Jefferson City, said Monday's eclipse was amazing.

"I want to see another one," he said.

More importantly, he added: "My real favorite part is how much it increased exposure and interest in the sciences — astronomy and knowledge in general."

Carthage native Janet Kavandi flew on three space shuttle missions and now heads NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

"This is my first and only full eclipse," she told the News Tribune on Monday, after watching it from the steps of Missouri's Supreme Court building. "In space, you have a lot of different, other views that are very unique — but not as cool as this was. I will probably remember the image of the very black disc, with the ring (of light) around it — watching the corona of the sun shine around the outside, and the radiation coming away from the sun."

For scientists, those aren't just pretty images.

The sun really is a fusion nuclear reactor, where hydrogen is fused into helium, Kavandi explained.

"But it's not always stable," she said. "There are eruptions sometimes, and you can study those better when the (sun's) disc is covered. You can see the results in the radiation that's coming out from the sun."

As a result, we also can "learn more and more about the physics of the sun," Kavandi said, "how old it is, how hot it is, what the reactions are that are going on inside."

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David DeFelice, Community Relations team leader from NASA's Glenn Center, directed the Jefferson City portion of NASA's live telecast on the eclipse.

"There's tons to learn" from a total eclipse, he said. "We keep developing new instruments, better instruments, better vantage points — so much more."

The information gathered can help us understand not only our sun, but "we've got all these other suns to compare it to," he said. "The big thing is science awareness and, I think, the idea is it really helps people understand the importance of the real science we do, and how important it is to our lives on earth."

University of Missouri-Columbia atmospheric science teacher Eric Aldrich agreed.

"There's new always things to learn and new people that can learn it," he said.

Education is why NASA brought its walk-through trailer and exhibits for people to visit.

"It was amazing," Gavin Schwant, 11, Jefferson City, said after going through it — adding he'd learned "it's very hard to build Legos with those (space) gloves."

Laci Schulte, of Jefferson City, also thought the exhibit was "pretty cool. I like the moon rock that they had — that's probably something that I won't ever see."

Daniel Williams, also Jefferson City, said the information screens helped him learn.

"I really knew very little about the solar eclipse" before going through the trailer, he said.

Richland native and School of the Osage High School graduate Mike Hopkins, an astronaut who flew on the International Space Station, told the News Tribune on Monday that seeing a total eclipse is a rare, personal thing.

"It's not going to pass over this area again for a hundred or more years," he explained, "so, when you have these opportunities, I think it's important to take advantage of them.

"Space flight was the same type of thing — it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have had that chance."