College credit for an eclipse course

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, December 12, 2016

This guest blog comes to us from Thomas Hockey. He’s announcing a cool college class that more institutions should think about offering.

University of Northern Iowa students observe a solar eclipse through safely filtered telescopes. // Thomas Hockey
In 2017, the University of Northern Iowa, located in Cedar Falls, is offering a 2-credit undergraduate course titled “The Great American Eclipse.” It has no prerequisites. The class will meet weekly during our second-half semester in the spring (March and April). We then will culminate with a field trip to the eclipse center line on 21 August. The textbook for this course is Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse by Astronomy magazine Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich (New York: Springer, 2016).

The field trip destination is Lathrop, Missouri (population 2,000), the closest town on the center line to Cedar Falls, Iowa. This location — conveniently only 5 miles from Interstate 35 and 30 miles from Interstate 70 — offers good options in case weather or traffic require a last-minute change in our viewing location. There should be a party-like atmosphere in Lathrop because the city will be celebrating simultaneously its sesquicentennial.

We will travel the 4½ hours by van and spend the night before the event in nearby Cameron — also on Interstate 35 and within the total eclipse path. (I did a mock field trip “drill,” earlier this summer, and found the EconoLodge, at which we have reservations, comfortable and boasting partial cooking facilities and a free breakfast.) A fee of $100 per person, in addition to tuition, will pay for the van and accommodations (double occupancy). Food is not included, but a market and restaurants are within walking distance of our motel. There is even a swimming pool.

Because this is a college course, we have learning objectives. Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to

In 2012, a group of University of Northern Iowa students traveled to the Desert Southwest to observe the annular solar eclipse May 20. // Thomas Hockey
1) demonstrate the mechanism and conditions for all types of eclipses.

2) describe some of the ways eclipses have entered human history and culture.

3) recognize eclipse phenomena during a total solar eclipse, the first over the continental United States since 1979.

We will take telescopes with approved solar filters to Lathrop to view the eclipse. Also, each pupil will receive safe eclipse glasses. The course instructor is Professor of Astronomy Thomas Hockey, PhD, and a veteran of six total solar eclipses. For details, call him at 319.273.2065 or send an email to

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