Chris Schulz Published

Thousands Gather At WVU To View Eclipse

A blonde woman wearing eclipse glasses and smiling stands amidst a crowd sitting on a green. She wears a grey quarter zip sweater with a "flying WV" logo visible on the right of the sweater's chest. The crowd spreads behind her until a grassy hill rises towards a red brick building.
Jane Connor stands to observe the eclipse using her eclipse glasses at the West Virginia University Mountainlair green April 8, 2024.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Across the country, people took a moment out of their day on Monday to watch the solar eclipse.

West Virginia was no exception. The greens of the Mountainlair, West Virginia University’s student union, were completely covered by students and community members watching the sky.

Students like senior Claire Dursa made up the majority of the crowd. She works at the student union, and took advantage of her proximity to the event to come outside and see what was happening.

“If I’m correct with what I heard, I think the next one’s quite a few many years away,” Dursa said. “I think we’re going to enjoy this one as much as we can because you know that we won’t get to have this kind of experience for quite a long time.”

Jackson Taylor is a physics Ph.D. student at West Virginia University, and a graduate student assistant at the university’s planetarium. He said seeing the general public excited about astronomy makes the experience all the better.

“It’s great today, just the opportunity to reach so many people,” Taylor said “So many people are excited about astronomy. This is like astronomy day, it almost feels like. People are asking great questions. People are just having a great time.”

Taylor estimated more than a thousand people came to the Mountainlair, based on how many eclipse glasses were handed out.

“We gave out solar eclipse glasses, we gave out about 1100 to 1200 of them,” he said. “We ran out promptly, because there’s a lot of people here.” 

A bearded man wearing a dark green sweater stands in a crowd holding a cardboard box to his eye. The box is taped closed with metallic tape and a shipping label is visible in the top right corner of the box. Behind him, people look at a phone while holding paper eclipse glasses. Buildings can be seen rising behind the man.
Zach Tallman looks at the eclipse through a homemade pinhole projector April 8, 2024.

Photo by Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
A man wearing jeans and a grey hoodie in the left of frame points across the frame of the image. In front of him and in center frame are several telescopes, black cylinders angled up towards the left of frame. Some of the telescopes are placed on white folding tables, and the two telescopes closest to right of frame are on their own metallic tripods. The rightmost and smallest telescope is gold in color. Men are positioned to use two of the telescopes, the leftmost on the table and the rightmost golden telescope.
Event attendees were given the opportunity to view the eclipse through specially filtered telescopes April 8, 2024.

Photo by Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Taylor and others from the astronomy department set up solar telescopes looking at the sun, with special filters including a corona telescope, which lets viewers look at the sun through clouds. They also provided historical information about previous eclipses, including their scientific and societal importance through millennia of human observation. 

Not everyone got a pair of eclipse glasses, but many were quick to share with friends and even strangers. Others like Zach Tallman took things into their own hands. 

“I didn’t decide I was gonna watch the solar eclipse until this morning,” he said. “I was like nobody, nowhere is gonna have filters or glasses. I might as well just make something out of what I got here at my house.”

He made a pinhole projector using instructions from NASA and common household objects like a cereal box, aluminum foil and printer paper.

As the eclipse progressed, changes started to manifest even to the naked eye. 

“You can definitely tell just looking out it’s definitely a lot dimmer,” Tallman said.

Close to the peak of the eclipse, a cloud started to make its way across the sun. For a moment, some in the crowd believed it to be totality, a complete covering of the sun that did not occur anywhere in West Virginia.

The cloud briefly allowed even those without eclipse glasses to see the crescent of the sun, filtered through the water vapor miles above.

“I’m seeing just a little tiny sliver of the sun, the rest of it is black,” said Jane Connor, who traveled up from Clarksburg. She knew an eclipse like this won’t happen until at least 2045, and that time far from West Virginia.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” Connor said. “So my daughter and granddaughter and I came up here today to experience it with a lot of people. It’s really exciting.”

Six white discs on a black background show the progression of the eclipse April 8, 2024. The top left disc is the least obscured, with only a portion of the bottom right of the disc obscured by a black crescent. The top middle disc is further obscured, showing a slimmer crescent in the top left of the circle. The top right disc is still further obscured, appearing as a solid crescent of white. Bottom left the progression continues with an even narrower crescent of light in the left of the white disc. The bottom middle disc is a sliver of white, and the progression ends in the bottom right conrer as the crescent shifts from the left to the bottom of the white disc, indicating the moon has started to move away from the sun.
In this composite image, six discs taken with a solar lens filter show the progression of the eclipse April 8, 2024.

Compositive image by Eric Douglas/West Virginia Public Broadcasting