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Solar eclipse to be teachable moment at SUNY Fredonia

The first day of professor Michael Jabot's course in elementary science methods will run the risk of overshadowing the rest of the semester.

That's because a solar eclipse will be the classroom setting when 60 students who signed up for Jabot's class meet for the first time on Monday, the start of the fall semester at SUNY Fredonia.

"I told them I arranged this eclipse just for them," joked Jabot. "I hope they're going to be excited about it."

Students will use digital thermometers, infrared thermometers and other instruments to track changes in the atmosphere before, during and after the eclipse. The data ultimately will be used by NASA and other agencies to analyze the impact of the eclipse on air temperature, ground temperature, cloud cover, and pollutants or solid particles in the air.

The students will collect data every 10 minutes or so between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Monday, when a full solar eclipse will be evident within a 70-mile wide "path of totality" that runs across 14 states, from Lincoln Beach, Ore. to Charleston, S.C.

Fredonia is not within the path of totality, where viewers will witness the moon completely blocking the sun. Observers in Fredonia will see about a three-quarters solar eclipse, which won't be much different than an overcast day for anyone who isn't paying attention.

Students at SUNY Fredonia will use digital thermometers, infrared thermometers and other instruments to track changes in the atmosphere before, during and after the eclipse on Monday. (Getty Images)

"If you didn't know it was an eclipse, you may not know anything was going on," said Jabot. "We're so bathed in sunlight that even that difference, from everything I've read, would not be noticeable."

Western New York will have a much better vantage point in April 2024, when another solar eclipse will be visible across North America.

"It will pass right over Buffalo," Jabot said.

Nonetheless, researchers want to find out as much as they can about the effect the blockage of the sun on Monday has on atmospheric conditions at various points throughout the country.

Will it get dramatically cooler? Which, if any, of the surfaces on earth will experience a cool down? How will the eclipse change the color of the sky or the amount of particulates in the air in one part of the country as compared with another?

Jabot connected with NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that studies climate, weather and ocean changes through his role as member of NASA’s international education team and as U.S. GLOBE Partner and NASA Earth Ambassador.

In addition to his students, Jabot also is inviting community members to assist in the data collection, which will take place in the Ring Road quad on campus.

"The more hands, the better," he said.

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