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Vermont astronomy students prepare to trade the stars for a total eclipse

A wide angle shot of a small brick circular building with a domed roof in winter. Two people stand in front of it. It's an observatory built in 1931.
Joey Palumbo
/
Vermont Public
Peoples Academy in Morrisville has an observatory from the 1930s. A few times a year, a local astronomy group holds public observing nights there. Rita Ciambra shows reporter Lexi Krupp the inside of the structure.

Every year, Rita Ciambra has asked her students to take out their phones and put a date in their calendars.

“Even in 2018, when I was teaching at my last school, I was like, ‘OK guys, April 8, 2024. It’s a Monday. Whatever you’re doing, try to get out of it and go into the path of totality so you can see the total solar eclipse,’” Ciambra said.

She teaches an astronomy elective and other science classes at Peoples Academy High School in Morrisville, which will be in the path of totality during next week’s solar eclipse.

A woman in a pink sweater stands inside an observatory with her hands up
Joey Palumbo
/
Vermont Public
Science teacher Rita Ciambra has been preparing for this month's eclipse for years, after seeing a total eclipse in 2017.
Close of of an old telescope with manual metal dials
Joey Palumbo
/
Vermont Public
The telescope in the school's observatory is nearly 100 years old.

Two years ago, she convinced her principal there to buy eclipse glasses for every student. This week, the school will finally hand them out. 

Ciambra had invited her astronomy class to stay on campus watch through solar telescopes as the moon stared to move in front of the sun. They were planning to set up in front of the school, on a hill next to a small observatory built in 1931 that still works.

“It’s the only public high school I know that has an observatory,” Ciambra said.

Those plans changed, when the district announced that school would be canceled for the eclipse, along with several others in the region.

But for Ciambra, it doesn’t matter if students are at school or somewhere else for the eclipse.

“Mostly I’ve just encouraged them, just be somewhere you can see it," she said.

"Take the glasses and use them because for some people, this might be the only opportunity they have to see a total solar eclipse, and it’s life changing.”

A portrait of a young woman in a classroom in front of a telescope and space posters.
Joey Palumbo
/
Vermont Public
Maple Newlin is one of the students in Ciambra's astronomy class.

Maple Newlin, a senior in her class, will certainly be watching.

“I am really, really excited to see the corona of the sun and the chromosphere,” she said.

“When the moon eclipses the sun completely, you can see sort of the pink chromosphere and you can see the corona, which is the outermost atmosphere of the sun.”

On a clear evening later this spring, Ciambra hopes to open the observatory in front of the school for a public viewing night.

It’s a reminder that you can stare into space in wonder even after the eclipse.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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More eclipse resources

See all of Vermont Public's 2024 eclipse coverage.

Corrected: April 2, 2024 at 5:54 PM EDT
The story was updated since the Lamoille South Unified Union School District announced that it was canceling school on April 8, and Ciambra will no longer be inviting students to watch the eclipse from Peoples Academy.
Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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