WILLIAMS COLLEGE TEAM HAS ECLIPSE SUCCESS IN SIBERIA
"The detail in the corona was fabulous and the sky, after a mostly cloudy few days, completely cleared, delighting everyone," said Prof. Jay Pasachoff of Williams College after viewing the August 1st total solar eclipse in Siberia. The moon took a couple of hours to cover and uncover the sun, starting over northern Canada and in the Arctic, and reached Novosibirsk, the major Siberian city, at 5:45 pm local time. Novosibirsk is 11 time zones later than United States Eastern time, nearly halfway around the world.
Pasachoff headed a Williams College expedition to the eclipse. He and his colleague Dr. Bryce Babcock carried out observations to study how the solar corona is heated to millions of degrees. They were assisted by undergraduates Katie Dupre and Marcus Freeman, who are entering their junior years at Williams. Prof. Marek Demianski, a visiting professor of astronomy at Williams College who is permanently at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and Prof. William Wagner, professor of Russian history at Williams, served the expedition both for their technical skills in photography and in their knowledge of the Russian language.
Additional observations involved Dr. Robert Lucas of the University of Sydney, Australia, in imaging the corona with a special filter that passed only light emitted by the hot coronal gas. Matthew Baldwin, a Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium exchange student from Swarthmore College, worked with Pasachoff, Dr. Paul Rosenthal of Williamstown, and Michael Kentrianakis of New York City on a variety of still and high-definition video photography.
"It was a surprise and a relief that the cooling of the atmosphere from the eclipse itself wiped the sky completely clean of clouds," said Pasachoff. "The diamond rings sparkled at the beginning and the end of totality, and we had a sweeping view of the approaching eclipse shadow over the birch and pine forest that surrounds Akademgorodok, the academic city outside Novosibirsk," he reported. "We were located on the roof of the University of Novosibirsk's physics department, collaborating with Dr. Alfia Nestorenko of the department and Dr. Igor Nestorenko of the nearby Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "The Nestorenkos provided a high-quality telescope mount and so much assistance and expertise that we couldn't have done it without them. We were glad to welcome Igor Nestorenko in Williamstown last November and for my wife, Naomi, and me to start arranging things with them here a year ago today, when we visited Akademgorodok on a reconnoitering trip," Pasachoff described. "We have a new permanent set of friends."
Pasachoff is also Chair of the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Eclipses. This eclipse was the 47th that he has seen.
The Williams College group was joined on site in Siberia by 10 Greek astronomers, headed by Prof. John Seiradakis from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, with whom they had observed the previous solar eclipse, in 2006. Now the Williams College team will be joined by both the Greek team and the Nestorenkos from Russia at next year's total solar eclipse, on July 22, 2009, in China near Shanghai.