8 August 2023 • STEM The Countdown to the Total Solar Eclipse

Each month, Hobart and William Smith will release an educational newsletter about the Sun leading up to the total solar eclipse that will pass over campus in April 2024.

On April 8, 2024, the Sun, the Moon and the Earth will move into perfect alignment so that the Moon completely blocks the Sun, and fortuitously, Geneva, N.Y. is in the narrow path of totality! For just over two minutes starting at 3:21 p.m., the Moon will completely block the blazing solar disk. This rare and spectacular event has not been visible from Geneva since 1806, 16 years before the founding of Hobart College.

Leading up to the 2024 eclipse, Associate Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb will author a monthly newsletter that will share insights about the Sun and its relationship to the Solar System and to humanity. Her countdown newsletter will be distributed at 3:21 p.m. on the 8th day of each month and will be available online at Year of the Sun, a site dedicated to the campus’ series of programs and activities coordinated with the Solar Eclipse. 

In addition, throughout the 2023-24 academic year, Hebb will coordinate a series of events and programs organized under the theme, “The Year of the Sun,” exploring the scientific, artistic, economic and cultural significance of the sun. Hebb is a researcher of the fundamental properties of stars and extrasolar planets, the formation and evolution of planetary systems, and the magnetic activity on low mass stars.

Here is August’s email:

T-minus 8 months: Facts about the Sun

The Sun is a ball of hydrogen and helium gas that gives off light that we can see with our eyes because its surface is almost 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That is only five times hotter than the glass blowing demonstration ovens at Corning. When you look inside the oven, the glass is glowing because it is hot. Similarly, the surface of the Sun glows because of its great temperature. The Sun is not on fire because there is no reaction with oxygen. It gets energy from nuclear fusion in the core that slowly (over an average of 170,000 years!) works its way out to the surface as heat. The core of the Sun needs to be extremely hot for fusion to occur, and it is — around 27 million degrees Fahrenheit.

With a diameter of 864,374 miles across, the Sun is an average sized star, but it’s still much bigger than the Earth. If the Sun were as tall as a typical front door, the Earth would be about the size of a nickel.

The Earth is about 93 million miles from the Sun. It’s distance changes slightly throughout the year because it is not on a perfectly circular orbit. It takes light from the Sun 8 minutes and 19 seconds to reach the Earth at this distance, but it would take you much longer. If it took you 20 minutes to walk the 1.1 miles from the HWS library to the Welcome Center at the Geneva lakefront, it would take you almost 3,199 years to walk from the surface of the Earth to the surface of the Sun. To get there today, you would have needed to start walking in 1177 BCE, just as the Bronze Age kingdoms in the Mediterranean were collapsing.

Even though you feel like you are sitting still relaxing on the benches overlooking the lake this summer, you are actually moving at 761 mph just because the Earth is spinning. The Sun rotates, too, but unlike the Earth the rotation rate of the Sun is not the same at all latitudes. The equator rotates much faster.  It takes 25 days for the equator to complete one rotation, but it’s 36 days at the poles.  If you were sitting on the surface of the Sun at the same latitude that Geneva, N.Y. is on Earth (43 degrees), you would be moving at approximately 3,033 mph.

Stay tuned for more about the Sun as the total solar eclipse in Geneva, N.Y. approaches!