Blogs  |  9.13.2017

An Unforgettable Eclipse

Challenger Center

Summer’s most anticipated event has come and gone – the total solar eclipse. The blue skies darkened, the temperature dropped, and the bright sun turned into a silver ring as the moon passed through its path. The buzz around the August 21 solar eclipse continues as everyone shares pictures and experiences with one another. Our staff viewed the eclipse at our three Kentucky Challenger Learning Centers, each with a different and memorable story to share.

Lauren’s Visit to Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky (Hazard)

I had the opportunity to travel to the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky in Hazard, located at the Hazard Community and Technical College. For several weeks, the Center educated communities throughout Southeastern Kentucky about the science of an eclipse and distributed official eclipse viewing glasses.

Since the county’s schools were in session, the Center didn’t host a local viewing event for students. But when the moon covered 95.1 % of the sun, I joined staff and community members outside to see the partial eclipse. We used multiple methods to take in the beautiful site, including solar filter glasses and pinhole projectors.

During the peak of the eclipse, mid-afternoon looked more like late evening. Charles Bush, Office Manager for the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky, noted that it looked as if you turned down the contrast on your television. I also noticed the temperature dropped as the moon took its path in front of the sun.

My eclipse experience at the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky was a great one. I met and talked to staff and students from the college as well as community members and I did it all while seeing the great American eclipse.

– Lauren Fuchs, Senior Program Manager, Network Engagement

Nick and Katy’s Visit to Challenger Learning Center – Louisville

We traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to participate in the Experts Experience tour that was put on by the Kentucky Science Center, which operates the Challenger Learning Center- Louisville at the Academy at Shawnee.

Since Louisville was not in the path of totality, we boarded buses full of science enthusiasts and began the 2.5-hour drive into the path. To pass the time, attendees were treated to two separate presentations on different science concepts by subject matter experts, including us! We partnered with Dr. Dirk Grupe, an assistant professor from the Morehead State University astrophysics – Earth and Space Science department. Dr. Dirk Grupe focused on the various theories of gravity, relativity, and astrophysics, while our presentation focused on the history of STEM education and why STEM education is more important than ever.

One of the best parts about presenting on the importance of STEM education was the reception we heard throughout and at the end of our presentation. We heard from different people on the bus from business owners to parents and grandparents, but most importantly concerned citizens. People were shocked to hear about the issues that face our economy if we don’t have a future STEM workforce and wanted to know how STEM programs, similar to the ones at our Challenger Learning Centers, could improve students’ STEM growth and career possibilities.

When we arrived at the path of totality we were treated to lunch and more scientific presentations. These presentations discussed additional scientific concepts, like the mathematics behind eclipses, our solar system, and how eclipses were used to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity. At the end of these presentations, totality was about to begin, so we quickly went to find the best viewing location. The moment totality hit, several things happened at once: crickets started chirping, what looked like a sunset sky appeared on the horizon, and the temperature dropped about 10 to 15 degrees.

After a few short minutes totality ended and it was time to head back to Louisville. On the trip back, we and Dr. Dirk Grupe, presented to another audience, who after seeing such an incredible sight were even more excited about STEM than our previous group. Seeing the eclipse was an amazing experience that we plan on telling future generations about for years to come!

-Nick King, Program Manager and Katy Bowers Kuhlman, Senior Implementation Manager

Lisa and Sam’s Visit to Challenger Learning Center at Paducah

Challenger Learning Center at Paducah and the West Kentucky Community and Technical College hosted Night at Noon, an eclipse viewing event that brought more than 3,000 people to their campus.

When we arrived at the Center, we could sense the excitement of the volunteers and staff as they awaited the arrival of community members to their campus. Eclipse enthusiasts from all over the world traveled thousands of miles to Paducah, just so they could be in the path of totality.

As the crowd arrived, we made our way across campus to see NASA Astronaut, the only one from Kentucky, Colonel Terry Wilcutt speak about his space experience, the concepts behind the eclipse, and current NASA programs. We also had the opportunity to see three NASA high altitude balloons launch. The launch was coordinated by students and faculty members from the Kentucky Space Grant Consortium at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and the University of Connecticut.

Besides educational programs, like Terry Wilcutt’s presentation, we enjoyed a cosmic playlist by a local radio DJ and great food from community vendors. While we waited for the moon to completely cover the sun, we watched kids play on bounce houses, teens getting their nails painted with cosmic designs, and students enjoying science demonstrations.

Before we knew it, totality was about to begin. We found a spot on the lawn next to a middle school class and the stage where Terry and the college president Dr. Anton Reece started the official countdown to the total eclipse.  As we put on our solar eclipse glasses and stared at the sun, we could already feel the air changing. The cicadas started chirping, the birds flew from the trees, and totality was on its way. Terry explained the changes in the environment and instructed us when to put on and take off our glasses.

When the moon completely covered the sun, the crowd applauded and cheered. The sun was now a silver ring in the sky. The clouds looked brighter as they contrasted against the darkened skies. Everyone in the crowd was looking in awe at the total eclipse. After what seemed like the fastest two minutes of our lives, Terry told everyone to put our solar eclipse glasses back on and the moon began moving away from the sun. This was an experience we will never forget. If you have the chance to see an eclipse in totality, take it. You won’t be disappointed! We hope to return to Paducah in 2024 for the next solar eclipse.

-Lisa Vernal, Senior Director of Communications and Sam Fernandez, Communications Associate