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NPS Campus Crane to Witness Solar Eclipse
U.S. Navy photo by Javier Chagoya

NPS Campus Crane to Witness Solar Eclipse

By Javier Chagoya

Participants from the Defense Resources Management Institute (DRMI) course don protective eye wear to observe the astronomical show of the century in Spruance Plaza, Aug. 21. Unfortunately, a marine layer along with low clouds dashed any hopes of experiencing the partial solar eclipse around the Monterey Bay.

Faculty Associate Charlie Orsburn, thinking months ahead, provided 60 pairs of glasses to students currently attending their DRMI Senior Course.

“Even if were not in the path of totality, we can still observe some dimness in light and the slight change in temperature. I wanted our course participants, who come here from around the world, to be part of the excitement of seeing a solar eclipse while in the U.S.,” said Orsburn.

Many others across campus were out with their protective eyeglasses too, regardless of the stubborn weather, congregations of solar eclipse seekers still had plenty to talk about the phenomenon happening above the despondent clouds.

Several students and faculty cleverly used solar eclipse apps, pointing their cell phones and tablets towards the heavens to view where the hidden sun would be as the app provided a visualization of the crescent effects over the face of the sun. The sun was 76% obscured at the peak of the solar transit for us on the Peninsula.

 

Research Associate Dan Sakoda and Research Assistant Giovanni Minelli of the Space Systems Academic Group concluded that the duration of an eclipse outage in low earth orbit would be on the order of minutes or less, so satellites are unaffected because most are built to operate in the shadow of the earth for 30-60 minutes without sunlight.

“A typical orbit around the planet is 90 minutes and most satellites encounter a proportion of direct sunlight for part of the orbit, and shade for the rest of it,” said Minelli.

 

“The duration is so short that the effect would be negligible.  For many low earth satellites, they routinely see up to fifteen or so eclipse periods per day as they orbit the earth and their path passes through the earth’s shadow.  So, a short solar eclipse caused by the moon would have minimal impact,” added Sakoda.

Back on the ground, most were still hoping the marine layer that brought a drizzle for a few minutes would burn off. Professor of Meteorology Wendell Nuss is all too familiar with the pattern of Monterey’s June gloom and describes our prevailing weather conditions.

“The occurrence and persistence of our marine layer stratus clouds have everything to do with the depth of the layer. Normally in summertime we have sinking air above us that creates warm air above our cool marine air, which traps the clouds in that layer. When the layer is deep, the daytime warming has a hard time warming enough to evaporate the clouds. If the layer is shallow, the clouds evaporate more easily with modest heating. So yesterday for the Eclipse, the layer was 3,500 ft. deep and it was very difficult to burn off the clouds. Today, August 22, due to a slight change in the wind flow, the layer is shallower, about 2,000 ft., and so the skies cleared much more easily,” said Nuss.

NPS Assistant Professor of Oceanography, Mara Orescanin, taught her Nearshore Processes course on Spanagel’s rooftop during the solar eclipse. It was a perfect opportunity for her to engage students of different backgrounds in something distinctly observable.

“I teach coastal oceanography, and try to emphasize the importance of observation, especially in nature. I strive to keep classes engaging, and this was an excellent opportunity,” said Orescanin.

Orescanin talked about rip currents, relating what her students learned about ocean waves to circulation at the coast. 

“In Monterey, people see rip currents regularly, so this was a tangible example of the importance of coastal circulation. When the sun and moon are perfectly in line, the tidal forces are stronger, so we are experiencing very strong oscillations in the tidal range.  As for the short-term effects, I am sure there are local disturbances, but most are likely short-lived,” added Orescanin.

Regardless of the lack of visibility, the solar eclipse served as a point of reflection for many on the Peninsula and created some fun gatherings around the NPS campus. 

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