Online class about upcoming solar eclipse offered to students this fall

Andrew Bennett currently serves as head of the department of mathematics. He has been with K-State for more than 28 years. (File photo by Hallie Lucas | The Collegian)

Kansas State University is offering a new online math class for the fall semester focused on the upcoming total solar eclipse. The class will begin on the day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, and focus on the math and physics related to celestial events in our solar system.

As previously reported by the Collegian, the solar eclipse will occur on the first day of the fall semester, and class attendance is optional for all students.

The eclipse class will be offered in two sections of Math 199. The Solar Eclipse section, or section ZA, is a four-week class for one credit. The Hidden Figures section, or section ZB, is a 12-week class for three credits. Both sections are designed for students who want a better understanding of the upcoming eclipse.

Students taking the class are required to register for a mandatory trip to Highland Community College to view the total solar eclipse in its path of totality Aug. 21. The trip is also open to the public, and there is a $10 discount for K-State students even if they are not taking the eclipse class.

Andrew Bennett, the math professor teaching both sections of the eclipse class, said a math class about the eclipse was not originally his idea.

“Chris Sorensen in physics approached me last fall about the upcoming eclipse and what we could do to get students to view and appreciate this event,” Bennett said. “This led to a variety of discussions both with faculty and administration, [and] the idea of having a class about eclipses and orbits developed.”

Bennett said he has taught “everything from Math 100 to Math 999,” but the eclipse class will still provide him with a new experience.

“This will be the first time I’ve taught online,” Bennett said. “Although I did teach distance classes for a couple years back in the ‘80s. The students sent hard copies of their work to me and I sent comments back to them via the mail.”

Bennett said K-State has never offered a class about a specific celestial event before, but “a total solar eclipse is such a major and rare event that it deserves more than just a public viewing.”

Chris Sorensen, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy enthusiast, said in an interview that a total solar eclipse is qualitatively different from a more common partial solar eclipse.

“Only during a total eclipse can you look directly at the sun,” Sorensen said. “That means that during totality, the glare from the sun is so reduced from normal that you can see the sun’s corona, a beautiful sight.”

Sorensen elaborated on what it is like to stand in the shadow of the moon.

“The shadow will be about 60 to 70 miles in diameter when it passes through Kansas,” Sorensen said. “Where you are, it will be quite dark, but in all directions you will see twilight. The birds will roost, the weather will quiet down and the nocturnal insects will start chirping.”

Sorensen said the last total eclipse in Kansas was in 1918, and the next total eclipse in Kansas will occur in 2045. The next total eclipse to cross the United States will be in 2024, but the closest its path of totality will come to Kansas is in southern Illinois.

Finally, Sorensen urged students to leave Manhattan and see the total solar eclipse in the path of totality Aug. 21.

“Go!” Sorensen said. “Don’t miss this very rare experience to stand directly in the shadow of the moon. A partial eclipse is like a near-death experience; a total eclipse is like dying.”

The only pre-requisite for Math 199 is high school algebra. The cost for section ZA is $458 and the cost for section ZB is $1,374. More information is available at the K-State Global Campus course search page.

Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I am a 2019 graduate in English. I have strong feelings about barbeque pizza and the Oxford comma. I am a former copy chief, community editor, feature editor, designer and deputy multimedia editor. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.