Dear Members of the SLUH Community,
The Great American Eclipse will occur coast to coast on Monday, August 21, 2017. The purpose of this letter is to give you more information about this extraordinary event and to provide context as to why our school will be closed on the day of the eclipse.
Total solar eclipses occur when the moon completely covers the sun and the day becomes so dark that the stars and planets appear in the sky. Although total solar eclipses are not rare on Earth, they occur rarely over the same location. The last one to move through the continental United States was in 1979 and the last in the St. Louis region was 1442! While a partial eclipse will be seen by the entire country (with even 99% of the sun covered the sky does not become dark) the drama and impact of a total eclipse goes far beyond the experience of a partial eclipse. Even within St. Louis, there will be places that are not in what is referred to as "totality," meaning the experience in Chesterfield will be much different than in Belleville. Totality will be exclusively limited to a 70 mile-wide band running from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern Atlantic coast. Given all the factors that create a good viewing experience, from the sun’s position in the sky to infrastructure and roads to support travelers, our location in the Central Midwest makes this a premiere—even historic—opportunity for people from across the nation and around the world.
Clearly, this is a remarkable opportunity for science education but it has an even wider and deeper appeal formationally for us as a Catholic and Jesuit school. What follows is an “Ignatian” perspective on the eclipse from David Baron, an award winning journalist, former science correspondent for NPR, and former science editor for the public radio program “The World.”
"To be human, it seems, is to seek purpose in our transient lives. A total eclipse is a primal, transcendent experience. As a science journalist, I thought I knew what to expect. What I had not anticipated was my own intense reaction to the display. For three glorious minutes, I felt transported to another planet, indeed to a higher plane of reality. Above me, in the dim vault of the heavens, shone an incomprehensible object. It is an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris. It is the eye of the cosmos. As I stood transfixed by this vision, I felt a visceral connection to the universe . . .”
This passage captures the spiritual potential of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Our students will witness, in a very direct and powerful way, the glory of divine creation. Testifying to God’s “greater honor and glory” is a foundational element of our mission as a Catholic and Jesuit school. Jesuits are among some of the greatest scientists and mathematicians of all time and dozens of craters on the moon have been named after Jesuit scientists. August 21st can, indeed, be a way for our students to connect the Jesuit motto of “finding God in all things” to the world of their direct experience.
SLUH Great American Eclipse Details
Here are some key facts and pieces of information to guide our planning and reflection on this extraordinary educational and formational opportunity:
Although many areas of St. Louis will experience totality, the SLUH campus will not. The northern edge of totality runs south of SLUH. The partial eclipse starts at 11:52 am St. Louis time, the total eclipse begins at 1:15 pm, and the partial eclipse ends at 2:45 pm. The St. Louis Eclipse Task Force has recommended a viewing time of at least 60 seconds in order to truly experience the effects of totality. Some of our students live in totality and some of our students do not. Some will have only a few seconds of totality and others will have more than two minutes. Will you be in totality? Check out this detailed eclipse map.
We are preparing the community for August 21st in the following ways:
1. Safety: The covering and uncovering of the sun will take approximately 90 minutes each. During this time, eclipse watchers will very naturally want to stare at the sun. IT IS NOT SAFE TO LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER SOLAR VIEWERS! SUNGLASSES DO NOT PROVIDE PROTECTION! Having said that, viewers can remove their glasses and view the solar corona during totality only! PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING LINK FOR INFORMATION ON SAFE VIEWING DURING THE ECLIPSE: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-101. Customized solar viewers have been purchased by SLUH to distribute to students, faculty, and staff during more community preparation activities the week before the eclipse. We will continue to emphasize safe eclipse viewing procedures when the students return to school.
2. T-Shirt: Such an event wouldn't be official without a Glow in the Dark SLUH Eclipse T-Shirt! Students, family, and friends please click here for purchase! You will receive a free official SLUH solar viewer with your purchase. While supplies last!
3. Speakers for students and families: Don Ficken, chair of the St. Louis Eclipse Task Force, spoke to our students in April, while Dr. Angela Speck, professor, and director, of Astronomy at Mizzou, spoke to our SLUH families in May. We recommend viewing her informational talk.
4. Eclipse Expo and Education: SLUH students sponsored a booth at the expo in Queeny Park on Saturday, June 17. Activities were based on a NASA recommended exercise: “When Day Turns to Night: Measuring Luminosity and Temperature during an Eclipse.” It is one thing to know it will get cold and dark...but how cold? How dark? Students will continue to learn more about how to prepare for their eclipse experience in the few days of school before the event.
5. SLUH map of totality: The Greater St. Louis wall map outside the Main Office shows the zone of totality while also identifying the zip codes in which SLUH students live. You can easily see which SLUH students are in and out of totality. Click here to find a map of events hosted locally.
6. SLUH Eclipse Hosting Opportunity: Since "totality" is the best location for our students, we do not believe that pulling many of our students from zip codes of totality to SLUH (out of totality) to be the right decision for our school, especially given the heavy traffic considerations projected for that day. SLUH students will be given the day off to experience totality in their neighborhoods and are strongly encouraged to make plans to travel to totality if they are not in the zone, or if they would like to seek a longer duration.
However, we know that many SLUH families do not live in totality. While some of you may choose to drive into totality and plan your own family experience, other families may not be able to plan their own experience and may be interested in an opportunity to have their son experience the eclipse at the home of another SLUH family who lives in totality. Accordingly, we have created a way for families living in totality to HOST A JR. BILL who is not in totality, or who would like to be in area where the eclipse will be visible for a longer duration. The link below takes you to a spreadsheet to facilitate this process. The instructions are fairly simple.
1. If you LIVE IN TOTALITY and are willing to host a student or students, enter your name and contact information in the appropriate space. THANK YOU to all families willing to host!
2. If you are NOT IN TOTALITY and would like to take advantage of the hospitality and opportunity offered by a host family, contact them using the listed information and make arrangements to have your son come to their home that morning, or perhaps the night before. PLEASE NOTE: SLUH is only facilitating this process. It is the responsibility of the families and students seeking a place to see the eclipse to use the spreadsheet and initiate making contact with the host family.
As a Jesuit school on the eve of our own bicentennial, and given the incredible tradition of Jesuits in astronomy, we hope this experience will inspire the hearts and minds of Jr. Billikens to find God in all things, to revel in the beauty of God's creation, and to embrace the opportunity to learn outside of the formal classroom.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
Fr. Ian Gibbons, SJ