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Solar Day generates excitement for the 2024 total solar eclipse

Wells has a small history of experiencing eclipses since its founding.
March 25, 2024

As a total solar eclipse will pass over the Central New York region on April 8, Wells College has planned a Solar Day for students, faculty, staff, and community members in Aurora to participate in the phenomenon. Here’s a breakdown of what this year’s eclipse will be, how to view it safely, a look at the history of eclipses at Wells, and what to expect for Solar Day.

What is this year’s total solar eclipse?

The path of this year’s total solar eclipse will cover at least 13 U.S. states and travel from Mexico into Texas, up to Maine, and exit over Canada. According to NASA, the last total solar eclipse that passed over North America took place in August 2017, and an estimated 215 million U.S. adults viewed it, either directly or electronically. The difference between the 2017 eclipse and this year’s is that this year’s eclipse will have a wider, more populated path, spend a longer time in totality, and have heightened solar activity.

Aurora will be just south of the path of totality, or the moment the Moon completely blocks the Sun. It will begin at approximately 2:15 p.m., and Aurora will experience near-totality at about 3:22 p.m., which is estimated to last about one minute. Other major cities in Upstate New York, such as Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester, will experience the eclipse at similar times.

A total solar eclipse is when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, which casts a shadow on Earth that either totally or partially blocks the Sun’s light. Total solar eclipses are different than partial or annular solar eclipses because people within the path of a total solar eclipse will see the Sun’s corona. Scott Heinekamp, a retired physics professor who taught at Wells for more than 40 years, said a solar eclipse is also the best opportunity for scientists to study the corona, which is the outer atmosphere of the Sun that omits light and radiation. Heinekamp will be giving a lecture on the science of eclipses during Solar Day and will bring eight-inch telescopes with solar filters to Main Lawn for people to view the eclipse.

How should I view the solar eclipse safely?

Safety is important to acknowledge when viewing a solar eclipse. It’s not safe to view the eclipse without eye protection, like solar viewing glasses or a hand-held solar viewer, to avoid severe eye injury. It’s not recommended to view the eclipse through a camera lens, telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while wearing eclipse glasses or using a solar viewer. It’s preferred to use a solar filter attached to the front of the optical lens. Aside from glasses and handhelds, Heinekamp said there are many indirect methods and DIY-projects to make viewers at home, like using a pinhole projection method.

“You can even just take a piece of paper, put a pinhole in it, hold it up there, and you’ll get an image on the ground of the eclipse, which is safe,” Heinekamp said.

For more information and tips on eclipse safety, visit NASA’s total solar eclipse website.

What is the history of eclipses at Wells?

Heinekamp said he remembered when an annular solar eclipse passed over Wells on a sunny day in May 1994.

“Anybody who could came out to the front of Main,” Heinekamp said. “We had the telescopes out there. Students lined up and took turns looking at it. I just remember it being a real community event.”

However, the last time a total solar eclipse was seen in New York was nearly 100 years ago on January 24, 1925. It was best viewed in parts of New York City, but newspaper reports on that day from The Advertiser-Journal in Auburn, which is now The Auburn Citizen, said astronomers at Cornell University were successful in taking photos of the eclipse, where totality lasted for one minute and 49 seconds. Their viewing conditions were clear with some clouds, while observers in Auburn had cloudier skies but saw large rainbows across the southern and eastern parts of the city that morning.

According to records in the Wells College’s Archives, accounts of people witnessing the 1925 eclipse were written by students in the spring issue of the college’s student literary magazine The Chronicle. Director of the Library Tiffany Raymond said soon after the eclipse, a fire partially destroyed Morgan Hall, so the writers who referred to 1925 as “one of calamity, of fire, flood, and famine” were probably reflecting on the chaos and excitement that semester had brought them. The quotation in the College Notes section described how the students went up to the athletic field, where the AA House stands today, looked through film negatives to view the eclipse safely, and scolded a student club called the Grey Goose Quill for trying to sell them chocolate at the gathering. One editorial described the beauty of the eclipse as “worth the hour’s bodily discomfort in the cold. Snow covered hilltop, sparkling lake below, cerulean sky, black trees with branches delicately interlaced, a wisp of cloud for a rainbow to rest on – all diffused in an ever-changing light giving the effect of the same scene observed in different moods...”

What is Solar Day?

Since the beginning of this academic year, faculty, staff, and administrators formed a committee to plan Solar Day and arrange themed activities, like creating optical illusions out of paper in the Book Arts Center, enjoying planetary tortillas for lunch, and offering shuttle rides to the Cayuga SHARE Farm in Union Springs for a presentation with Heron Clan Member Dan Hill and Mohawk Chief Tom Porter. Special solar eclipse viewing glasses were custom designed for the community. Assistant Professor of Creative Writing James Miranda said he and other English faculty will be hosting a literary gathering that morning.

“We’ll have poetry, fiction, drama, visual art, music, and an open mic for those who might be moved to share in the festivities in the moment,” Miranda said. “We are encouraging all faculty who have scheduled classes during this time to bring their students down for the celebration.”

A full schedule of Wells’ Solar Day can be found on the college’s event calendar. Along with their programming and other activities, Miranda said the committee believes the eclipse is true attraction of Solar Day and hopes it will emphasize the unique opportunity to witness something that most people do not see in their lifetimes.

“It is a cosmic event that will bring people from all over the world to stand in awe of how the universe can create its own art, beauty and magic,” Miranda said. “I think we should all be feeling very grateful for being alive in this time and place to honor it.”

Emma Vallelunga

Content Strategist

Emma is the staff writer and content strategist for the Wells College Marketing and Communications Office. She helps promote campus news, events, engagement opportunities, and stories about Wells worth telling the world. It's her job to get to know you, no matter who you are, where you're from, or how you identify. Tell the Marcom team your story at

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