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Eyes to the sky: Campus celebrates partial solar eclipse

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UNC junior Parmis (Maeve) Kimia watches the eclipse from the quad on Monday, April 8, 2024.

Hundreds of eyes turned toward the sun on Monday to catch the partial solar eclipse, which peaked over Chapel Hill at 3:15 p.m.

Students, staff and community members across campus gathered at any available clearing outside to capture this rare celestial event, as the next one won’t be visible for another two decades.

Before the eclipse started, sophomore Anna Keith Sullivan patiently waited in line outside Wilson Library for a pair of solar eclipse glasses. Just in case she couldn’t get a pair though, she followed a TikTok tutorial the night before to create a makeshift eclipse viewer out of a granola bar box.

She had to make sure she would see it.

Sullivan said she isn't necessarily interested in astronomy, but felt the eclipse was a special event that she might not see again. Sullivan witnessed the last total eclipse in 2017 at the beach and said it had a "weird vibe."

“I don't know how to explain it,” Sullivan said. “It almost was dreamlike, and I thought that was so cool because I've never experienced anything like that before.” 

She hoped the eclipse in Chapel Hill would be just as exciting to see everyone looking up at the same time. She watched from Polk Place with her friends, and hundreds of other students.

Similarly, first-year Sofia Rangel watched from the Quad right after her class. Rangel said she wanted to see if the eclipse would look similar to the photos posted online from NASA and other space organizations.

Across South Street, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center hosted a solar eclipse party. Inside the building, the planetarium hosted a live stream of the total eclipse, meteorite activities and eclipse-themed screenings in the Fulldome Theater.

Outside, they had free hands-on astronomy activities, such as using solar filters and disco balls to observe the eclipse’s reflections, as well as looking through tree shadows. These allowed attendees to experience the eclipse without special glasses, Chris Katella, the planetarium's marketing and communications manager, said.

When they weren't looking up, eclipse viewers were able to look down at crecent-shaped shadows dotting the ground.

The viewing activities were a new addition to this eclipse year, and the event was an effort across many different departments, Katella said.

“We knew what it takes,” Katella said. “People look to Morehead here in the Triangle, not just in Chapel Hill. We are experts in what we do.”

Nia Freeman, a digital communications specialist at the planetarium, documented the event for Morehead's archives. She also went around to lend her eclipse glasses to people without them. 

She loved seeing people in awe of what they were witnessing, and how everyone came together for the event, uniting the campus, she said.

Joy Harrison is an astrophysics student at UNC and works for the planetarium. For most of the day, she was inside a packed Fulldome Theater, presenting educational shows on the science behind the eclipse.

Harrison saw the 2017 eclipse with her family at the same planetarium, so it was full circle to be on the other side, helping others have a positive eclipse experience, she said.

For Katella, the eclipse was amazing. He said he grew up as a big space nerd, so witnessing love and appreciation for science during this event was special to him.

“It's like capturing lightning in a bottle,” Katella said. “To be able to look up with one of these [eclipse glasses], and see something happening that you have no control over is really humbling, inspiring and just, exciting.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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