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Hofstra students head west to witness solar eclipse

Wearing solar eclipse glasses, Brian Lee, Steve Lawrence,

Wearing solar eclipse glasses, Brian Lee, Steve Lawrence, Lee Ackerman, Julia Finneran, Bret Bennington, Gail Bennington and Kylie O'Connor at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. Credit: Jeremy Bales

Not only was Julia Finneran, 20, thrilled to board a plane Wednesday for a trip that includes experiencing the upcoming total solar eclipse, she’s also warning her Instagram followers to get ready for a barrage of images.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be prepared with how much I am going to post,” said the Hofstra University geology major, who departed LaGuardia Airport early Wednesday for Salt Lake City with a small group of professors and fellow students.

“I want the people around me to see how interesting science really is, and hopefully I can inspire someone’s love for science like my own,” said the soon-to-be junior from East Meadow.

Finneran is one of four Hofstra students enrolled in a weeklong, two-credit course that was inspired by the eclipse, which the group will experience from a campground just south of Thermopolis, Wyoming.

That will be a prime viewing area, weather permitting, for the much anticipated celestial lineup, when the moon moves in front of the sun and gradually blocks its light, leading to a couple of minutes of total darkness during daytime hours.

That totality will be experienced within about a 70-mile wide path that will run diagonally from Oregon to South Carolina.

It’s also one of the areas that meteorologists believe have the best chance, historically, for clear skies. Monday, eclipse day, is expected to bring mostly sunny skies for Thermopolis, according to the Wednesday forecast from the National Weather Service’s Riverton, Wyoming, office.

Any fellow students back on campus in Hempstead, meanwhile, will only get a partial view of the eclipse, with about 70 percent of the sun’s light blocked.

It’s “going to be amazing” to experience the eclipse out West, along with learning “all the science behind it,” said Finneran.

While the eclipse may be considered the grand finale for the class, the days before are dedicated to geology studies, with one special focus on the kinds of creatures that can survive in such extreme environments as thermal springs, said Bret Bennington, chair of Hofstra’s Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability, and one of three professors on the trip. Visits to the Great Salt Lake, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Yellowstone National Park are also on the agenda.

The nights, too, will offer special learning opportunities. The area’s “really dark” nighttime skies will allow students to “do some observing and astrophotography under conditions they normally wouldn’t be able to enjoy,” said Bennington, who collaborated on the course with Steve Lawrence, professor of physics and astronomy.

While the skies may be clear at their campground in Wyoming, Bennington said he has no idea how crowded conditions may be on the ground, as eclipse chasers are swarming to locations along the path of totality.

But sky-watching and the eclipse are not the main drivers for Scott Lakeram, 19, a geology major from South Ozone Park, who said he was first to sign up for the class last fall.

He’s being lured by the chance to study the fossilized dinosaur dung found in areas of Utah, he said during a stop last week on his road trip out West. Examining the dung can reveal what was on the menu for those giant creatures and how they interacted with their environment — subjects he’s hoping to pursue further in doctoral research.

The eclipse, for him, is pretty much “a cherry on top of the ice cream.”

Brian Lee, 20, a music major from Whitestone, Queens, says the eclipse has no direct connection to the career he envisions in the business of music.

But with a minor in astronomy, he said, “I am really excited to see it from my own nation . . . it is a very exclusive event.”

That’s because the last total solar eclipse to even clip the contiguous United States was in 1979, and the last one with a clean sweep from coast to coast — such as Monday’s — occurred in 1918, according to, a site featuring eclipse maps and animations.

For millennials, especially, Lee said, “it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”


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