Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Hopkins community celebrates 2024 total solar eclipse

By ZACHARY BAHAR | April 9, 2024



Hopkins community members gather on the Beach to witness the total solar eclipse.

On Monday, April 8, hundreds of Hopkins students and community members gathered on the Beach to watch the 2024 total solar eclipse. Beginning at 2:05 p.m. and lasting until 4:33 p.m., the eclipse allowed viewers to see a rare sight: the moon passing between the sun and the Earth.

The three-body system of the Earth, moon and sun is arranged in exactly the right configuration of distances and sizes that enables the moon to match the diameter of the sun exactly. Even so, it takes specific conditions to produce a total eclipse. The moon must be perfectly passing through the orbital plane of the Earth around the sun — known as the ecliptic — and be at its minimum distance from Earth. The interval between these conditions is known as a saros, a period of 18.03 years after which the same eclipse will reappear, albeit at a different point on the Earth’s surface.

If these conditions aren’t aligned properly, a total solar eclipse cannot occur. Near misses of these conditions often cause annular eclipses, where the moon partially obscures the sun. Associate Professor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences Kevin Lewis shared some insights into eclipses in an email to The News-Letter. 

“What I hope most is that people gain a better appreciation for the magnificence of our natural world and their place in the Universe,” Lewis wrote. “It is a complete coincidence that not only does our Moon appear large enough in the sky to completely obscure the Sun, it is almost the exact same size in the sky... However, the Moon is also gradually getting farther from the Earth over time. Therefore, we are currently in a unique era in Earth's history when both total and annular eclipses are possible — in a few hundred million years, total solar eclipses will no longer be visible.”

This year’s path of totality intercepted land around Mazatlán in northern Mexico and proceeded to traverse North America, departing over Newfoundland. Included in the path of totality were cities including Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Montreal. Around 31 million people live on this path, with many more traveling long distances to glimpse this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Senior DJ Quezada drove to Stowe, Vt. to see the total eclipse with his friends. In an interview with The News-Letter conducted six hours into the drive back to Maryland, he described the event as surreal.

“An eclipse will only pass over any one point on the Earth's surface every half millennium or longer. When I saw that we were going to be just outside of the path of totality, I was like, ‘Okay, we just have to go. This is an experience of a lifetime. We don't know what we're going to be doing in 20, 30 or 50 years, so we just got to do it,’” he said. “When we got there, it was all worth it. The sun was blotted out by the moon, and you could see the corona of the sun, and it was just like there was this giant hole punched in the sky. Everyone started cheering, and it was this mesmerizing situation.”

Junior Elliott Rosen, who traveled with Quezada, added to this description of totality, explaining that the sky got dark within a matter of minutes.

“I have never seen anything like it; you could stare directly at the sun with no glasses. Everyone took their glasses off almost at once, as the last sliver of light slowly disappeared,” Rosen said.

While Baltimore only observed a partial eclipse — with a maximum coverage of 89.7% at 3:21 p.m. — the astronomical event remained stunning. To celebrate the eclipse, Hopkins organized festivities on the Beach, including free eclipse glasses, music, eclipse-themed cookies and shirts, and a solar telescope. Sophomore attendee Stuart Malina shared his enthusiasm in an interview with The News-Letter.

“This the first eclipse I've seen. I'm incredibly excited... this is like a biblical plague back in the day,” Malina said, emphasizing the event’s grandeur.

This sentiment was echoed by Near Eastern Studies doctoral student Kyle Dillon, who specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Philology. He compared the event to the stellar calculations conducted by the Babylonians — some of the first people to accurately predict eclipses. 

This eclipse also corresponded with the newly-coined “Hophenge,” when the Sun perfectly aligned with the tip of the Gilman Hall spire. Students in Guided Tour of the Planets calculated the exact moment of Hophenge to 6:15 p.m. Lewis discussed the origins of Hophenge.

“Hophenge is an event created for a homework assignment in my class... I had my students measure the elevation of the Gilman Hall spire along with the orientation of the Keyser Quad to determine the exact date and time when the sun would sit on top of the spire as seen across the quad at the Eisenhower library,” he said. “[It] gave the class the opportunity to conduct a real-time science experiment, without an answer key... As it turned out, the students were correct in their calculations, and we got some great photos of the alignment.”

Other students in attendance emphasized the significance of having a community event, particularly during a busy time of the semester.

“I'm happy that it brought this many people outside. I feel like a lot of times it feels like we all just kind of exist alone on this campus. It's not a total community engagement, but it's nice to see so many people get outside and be happy. It’s also very nice [out], which is convenient; the weather's so nice today,” junior Grace Nockolds shared with The News-Letter.

Despite the generally enthusiastic mood around the eclipse, some students expressed dismay at the Hopkins administration for facilitating an event that required looking uphill, the darkness being caused by clouds rather than the moon or the administration using the event as a distraction. Student Government Association Vice President Jackson Morris offered the following statement to The News-Letter.

“I hope that everybody is aware that the eclipse is just a conspiracy scheduled by the university administration to take away student awareness from the fact that FFC and Nolan's cost too much,” Morris joked. 

Even with these concerns, the 2024 total solar eclipse will be fondly remembered by many in attendance. The next total solar eclipse will occur on August 12, 2026 and will be visible from the Arctic, eastern Greenland, Iceland and northern Spain.

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