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College of Arts & Sciences
Physics and Astronomy

Eclipse Experts at USC: "Myth, History, and Science"

Sunday, August 20, 2017 - 14:00 to 16:00

Location and Details:

Amoco Hall (Room #1C01)
Swearingen Engineering Center
301 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29208


2:00 - 4:00 pm


2:00 pm - 2:30 pm:

Speaker:  Dr. Ramesh Kapoor
Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Bangalore, India), Astrophysics
Topic:  "Observations of Six Total Solar Eclipses Since 1980"


Unexpected phenomena like eclipses, comets, meteors, and earthquakes were viewed as ill omens.  The ancient Indian texts regarded these as utpata (evil), things to fear.  That gave way to rituals for penitence or to ward them off.  The Indian astronomer, Aryabhatta (476-550 CE) proved in 499 CE that the eclipses of the Sun and the Moon are a play of shadows of the Moon and the Earth and gave an algorithm to compute eclipses.  This work became significant with time, but the knowledge did not percolate down and misconceptions in the popular mind continued.

The present talk centres round solar eclipses and is India specific.  By the middle of the 19th century, modern astronomy had secured foot in India.  The talk deals with a few eclipses in the 19th century where modern observations were made and then those of 1980, 1995, 2009, and 2010.



Prof. Ramesh Chender Kapoor began his career in 1971 at the Uttar Pradesh State Observatory (now Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, ARIES) at Naini Tal in observational astronomy.  Since March 1974 until 30.09.2010, he was with the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore where he worked on various topics in relativistic astrophysics -- black holes, white holes, quasars and pulsars, etc. His association with the institution continues.  He has been participant as observer and organizer in many solar eclipse expeditions of IIA.  His current interest is the historical side of comet sightings and observations from the Indian region that have received little or no notice at all in more recent literature.  He is active into popularization of astronomy and has published also on Indian Systems of Medicine.

2:30 pm - 3:00 pm:
Speaker:  Dr. Gerardo Vazquez
Salisbury University (Salisbury, MD), Physics
Topic:  "Total Solar Eclipse Myths and Legends"


An integral exploration of human reactions to total solar eclipses is shown using videos of people experiencing a total solar eclipse and comparing their reactions to the ones that create myths and legends from different cultures around the world.  Also, the different aspects of the physics of a total solar eclipse are explained in order to understand what people used to think and do in the past, as opposed to nowadays.


Gerardo Arturo Vazquez was hired as a Physics professor at Salisbury University in 2008. He was born in Mexico and earned his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico), Mexico's largest and one of the most prestigious universities in the world.  Dr. Vazquez currently serves as the Physics Laboratory Coordinator and teaching a full load of courses at Salisbury University.  He has advised the research projects of several students that have gone to graduate school and succeeded in the scientific community.



3:00 pm - 3:30 pm:
Speaker:  Dr. James Overduin
Towson University (Towson, MD), Physics
Topic:  "Testing Einstein's Theory of General Relativity"


Total solar eclipses offer us a unique chance to observe the phenomenon of light deflection, in which starlight is bent or "gravitationally lensed" by the curvature of spacetime around the Sun.  Arthur Eddington was the first to perform this observation during the eclipse of 1919, dramatically verifying one of the key predictions of Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity.  I will briefly describe this test and how we hope to repeat it during this year's Great American Eclipse.  But the main focus of my talk will be on why it is so important to test Einstein's theory in the first place.  After so many years, isn't it pretty much established truth?  The answer is "No!" and the reason why is that gravity is the only force in nature that stubbornly resists unification with the rest of physics.  One by one, all the fields of physics except gravity have been combined into a single theoretical framework.  Each episode of unification has been accompanied by a transformation in society.  By pushing tests of Einstein's theory to new limits, we hope to learn how to unify all of physics in a single theory.  History suggests that the consequences of such a "final unification" will be just as transformative, but in ways that are impossible to predict in advance.


James Overduin is an Associate Professor at Towson University and a Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.  He specializes in gravitation, cosmology, and astrophysics.


3:30 pm - 4:00 pm:
Speaker:  Dr. Kristin Simunac
St. Petersburg College (St. Petersburg, FL), Astrophysics
Topic:  "The Solar Wind and Space Weather"


Our nearest star, the Sun, is always changing.  Its atmosphere (the corona) extends into space, releasing a very tenuous stream of material known as the solar wind.  The solar wind interacts with comets, moon, and planets resulting in "space weather."  This presentation will include basic properties of the Sun and solar wind, methods used to observe them, and how space weather impacts the Earth.




Kristin Simunac teaches physics at St. Petersburg College in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida. She received her Bachelor's degree in Astronomy from Caltech, her Master's in Physics from the University of Kansas, and her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of New Hampshire.  Before teaching, Kristin worked as a research scientist.  She is a Co-Investigator on the Plasma and Supra-Thermal Ion Composition (PLASTIC) experiment aboard NASA's Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO).  She also served as Assistant Director of the New Hampshire Space Grant Consortium.

"Eclipse Experts at USC: Myth, History, and Science"

Visit the USC flagship campus in the heart of Columbia for a series of short talks from USC faculty and visiting scholars.  Learn about the role of eclipses in science and society and how eclipses have factored in myths and legends throughout history.  Experts will also speak about the tumultuous sun and share their experiences of past eclipses around the world.  Each mini-lecture will be -30 minutes in length, and presented at a level accessible to a broad public audience.  These lectures will be free and open to the public.  Parking is available near Swearingen Engineering Center and City of Columbia parking meters are free on Sunday afternoons.

For more details about location, speakers, and access, visit the USC eclipse homepage at

Please visit the following for further details:

Total Eclipse Weekend - "Myth, History, and Science" Lectures 

Department of Physics and Astronomy - Total Solar Eclipse

University of South Carolina - Total Solar Eclipse

PDF icon Eclipse Experts at USC "Mini-Lectures" Program