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The Indiana Daily Student

campus academics & research

Dating back to 1869, IU’s campus, faculty and alumni have a rich history of eclipse viewings


As IU gears up to view the 2024 total solar eclipse, let’s flip the pages back to other eclipses in IU’s history book.  

The total eclipse of 1869: 

August 7, 1869, marked the last total solar eclipse visible from IU’s campus. Professor Theophilus Wylie, cousin of the first IU president, Andrew Wylie, held a viewing party at the historic Wylie House’s rooftop observation deck. The celestial spectacle brought together esteemed minds from IU, including Elisha Ballantine, professor of languages, and Daniel Kirkwood, professor of mathematics. Wylie, a pioneer in scientific education and a keen astronomer, documented a diary with frequent entries including one for the 1869 eclipse. 

Kirkwood's mathematical acumen and theoretical insights into celestial mechanics, especially regarding comets, asteroids and meteors, earned him a lasting legacy, commemorated in the naming of the Kirkwood Observatory on the IU Bloomington campus and nearby Kirkwood Avenue. The gathering atop the Wylie House not only marked a moment of scientific curiosity but also laid the groundwork for IU's fascination with solar phenomena. 

A trip to Boulder in 1878: 

On July 29, 1878, Bloomington residents had a glimpse of a solar eclipse, although it was only partial. The curious Theophilus Wylie hopped on a train to Boulder, Colorado, to witness the total eclipse firsthand. After a rough climb up a mountain under the midday sun of July in Boulder, Wylie noted the corona's brightness surpassing that of his observations in the total eclipse of 1869, which was rather obscured by clouds and darkness. He said he observed the phenomenon of Baily’s Beads, wherein beads of sunlight are observed due to sunlight shining through the valleys of the moon. Wylie met prominent astronomers and thousands of spectators who had gathered across the American West, including Maria Mitchell, an astronomer in women’s education in science, and pioneering inventor Thomas Edison. 

After the 1878 eclipse, Kirkwood wrote a report for the Indiana School Journal detailing scientists’ findings from studying the eclipse at different places along its totality path. 

A journey to Spain in 1905: 

In 1905, an expedition team from IU travelled overseas to Almazán, Spain, to witness the total solar eclipse on August 30. They aimed to take clear photos of the sun's outer layers using a special telescope and wanted to photograph the area around the sun to find planets near it, like Vulcan.  

John A. Miller, a graduate student and future professor of mechanics and astronomy at IU, and Wilbur A. Cogshall, the assistant professor of astronomy, led the team with A.F. Kuersteiner, professor of romance languages, helping organize the trip and translate for the team. Three IU students joined the expedition. 

It took a lot of hard work to set up all the heavy equipment and despite efforts to find clear weather, the sky was cloudier than expected. Luckily, the team saw the eclipse through thin clouds and took some photos of the sun's outer layers but were unable to see Mercury or the surrounding sky well enough to find planets. 

A return to Colorado in 1918: 

In 1918, Miller and Cogshall conducted another trip to Brandon, Colorado, to view the total solar eclipse on June 8. Miller was now a professor at Swarthmore College, and Cogshall had taken over Miller’s job at Kirkwood Observatory. The Colorado eclipse was a chance for both observatories to work together and use the same equipment they had used in Spain, hoping for better weather. 

IU graduate student Vesto M. Slipher from Lowell Observatory helped coordinate observations between Lowell, IU and Swarthmore, sharing instruments and his much-needed expertise in spectroscopy. The weather was favorable this time, and they were able to document clear images of the eclipse. Miller had to stay inside the darkroom, but others saw the beautiful eclipse outside. 

An inspirational eclipse in 1932: 

Professor Cogshall journeyed to Conway, New Hampshire, to witness the solar eclipse on August 31, 1932. Although it was only partial in Bloomington, the eclipse left a significant impact on Frank Edmondson, who was about to enter his senior year at IU. After graduating in 1933, Edmondson pursued a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University, returning to IU as a professor of astronomy. 

The 2017 partial eclipse in Bloomington

August 21, 2017, served as a partial eclipse viewing day for Bloomington. It was the first time in almost a century that a total solar eclipse stretched from coast to coast. The eclipse was celebrated across campus with several viewing parties and festivities.  

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