Randy Niffenegger spent years planning for a trip on which he’ll soon embark.
Niffenegger, a senior physics student at Mississippi State University, will travel to Missouri to watch the Aug. 21 solar eclipse from the path of totality — where the moon will completely cover the sun. He’s an avid astronomy student, president of MSU’s astronomy club, and this trip will mark a first for him.
“I have never gone to see a total solar eclipse before,” he said. “I have stayed up many late nights to see a couple of partial lunar eclipses, but never a solar eclipse.”
Niffenegger, 20, is from Waldo, Wisconsin. His sister is beginning her senior year at the University of Missouri in Columbia, which is where he plans to watch the eclipse.
“I decided to go as soon as I found out about it,” he said. “That was maybe as far back as 2013 or 2012 — I was still in high school. I was still narrowing down places to go a few years ago.”
While Niffenegger is an avid astro-photographer, he said he wants to just take in the total portion of the eclipse.
“There will only be about 2 1/2 minutes of total solar eclipse,” Niffenegger said. “I would be so bummed if I missed out by taking pictures. I’ll be taking pictures in the 30 minutes leading up to it — some photos of how dark it’s getting and things like that. But, for the actual 2 1/2 minutes, I’m just going to experience it just like everyone else. Because I feel like if it’s your first one, that’s what you should do.”
Niffenegger is also helping plan MSU’s solar eclipse viewing event, which will begin at noon and last until 3 p.m. on the Drill Field in the middle campus, weather permitting.
He said planning is very exciting but can also be nerve-wracking.
“It’s all depending on one thing, and that’s the weather,” he said. “We’re planning so hard and it’s nerve-wracking because no matter how hard you try, how much time you put into preparation or how far you go, everyone could miss it if there’s just one stray cloud.”
MSU Associate Professor of Astronomy Angelle Tanner said MSU’s event will keep an eye on the weather.
“If it’s clear, we’ll be on the Drill Field,” Tanner said. “If it’s completely cloudy, we’ll put a sign out and go to Old Main, the new classroom building, and do a live feed from the path of totality and have some live activities and games to keep people occupied.”
People viewing the eclipse should wear special eclipse glasses to protect their eyesight during the event. Tanner said glasses sold at Lowe’s are safe for use, and MSU will provide 1,000 glasses at its event, as well as a solar telescope and binoculars with solar filters to watch the eclipse.
Students at the Mississippi School for Math and Science are also gearing up to watch the eclipse.
MSMS physics instructor Charles Vaughan said the excitement about the eclipse has persisted through the year and is growing as the event gets closer.
“People have been contacting me over the summer about this thing wanting to know what we’re going to do,” he said. “The enthusiasm has been very high.”
Vaughan said MSMS’ event will be a school-wide function, and the school will provide the students with eclipse glasses so they can safely watch the eclipse.
“It’s hyped,” he said. “That’s all I can say. They’re really wanting it to happen. We’re really, really praying that the weather cooperates because Mississippi weather — she does what she wants.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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