Planetary Radio Live event explains eclipse

By Francois Gatimu

Planetary Radio host Matt Kaplan led an interactive panel discussion Sunday in Shryock Auditorium that covered a wide range of eclipse-related topics.

A panel of scientists, professors and directors from various big-name science organizations like NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explained the science behind the eclipse and the data they hope the scientific community will receive from it.

Some of those empaneled included Nergis Mavalvala, a professor of astrophysics at MIT, and Steve Clarke, the director of the heliophysics division at NASA.


A separate panel was made up of amateur astronomers and astrophotographers such as the Solar Eclipse Across America Project Manager Mike Kentrianakis and astrophotographer Kevin Morefield, a 1985 SIU graduate.

Jeff Williams, the station manager at WSIU Public Broadcasting — the station that runs Planetary Radio — said the event was held in the hopes of enhancing the eclipse experience by helping those in attendance understand it better.

“If you’re a science geek or just someone who is in awe when you look up in the sky and see the stars, the event to you as well,” Williams said.

Planetary Radio is a weekly space radio program and podcast geared toward science education and space outreach.

The program seeks to explain “the mystery and the wonder of science,” Williams said.

The panels broached various topics, from how and why a solar eclipse happens to more complicated subjects such as how black holes are created.

“A black hole is a dying star about 10 kilometers in diameter, which I believe is the size of Carbondale,”  panelist Nergis Mavalvala said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “The eclipse gives us the opportunity to study the sun more closely.”


The eclipse offers a rare opportunity for scientists to get a better look at the sun’s corona, its upper atmosphere.

“This will help us predict when solar flares happen, which could cause massive blackouts,” Clarke said.

The solar eclipse will reach the point of greatest duration just a few miles south of Carbondale on Monday, making the city a main attraction for celestial observers.

Many attending Sunday night’s live event were from out of town, Williams said.

“We really didn’t know what to expect for the number of people in town for the eclipse,” Williams said, adding that an event like this would normally generate about 200 people.

Sunday’s event sold 1,000 tickets within two weeks of ticket sales opening, Williams said.

Staff writer Francois Gatimu can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @frankDE28.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.