VPOTUS pool report -- eclipse viewing party at Naval Observatory

From: Groppe, Maureen [mailto:xxx@email.com]
Sent: Monday, August 21, 2017 4:26 PM
Subject: VPOTUS pool report -- eclipse viewing party at Naval Observatory

The vice president pulled into the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory at 2:10 p.m., after traveling through the Washington, D.C., streets where some onlookers trained their camera phones on the motorcade while others, wearing eclipse glasses, continued to stare at the sky.

About 18 junior high and high school students and teachers from Cornerstone Christian Schools were waiting on folding chairs in the observatory’s round library, one of the nation’s top scientific libraries.

Started in 1830, the observatory is one of the nation’s oldest academic and scientific institutions, Captain Marc Eckardt, the superintendent, told the gathering.  He pointed out the open desk of Asaph Hall, the astronomer who discovered the moons of Mars. On the desk was a copy of the 1801 budget.

Eckardt told the students they would be looking at the sun through a 12-inch, approximately 130-year-old telescope. The telescope had a filter on the end to make it safe to look at the sun. And he gave the first of many reminders to the students to not look at the sun without glasses.

Brad Bailey, associate director for science at NASA, said eclipses have influenced human kind throughout history. They’ve influenced love and war, and been blamed as the cause of both famine and good luck as well as the death of a king.  Ancient peoples thought sky jaguars were chasing the sun and slowly devouring it over time. The only way to stop it was for everybody to scream at the sky to scare them away. “So maybe we’ll have to go out and yell at the sky a little bit later,” he said.

On a more scientific note, Bailey said eclipses have led to hundreds of scientific discoveries, including helium and proving Einstein was correct that mass warps space time. Some of the things scientists continue to study through eclipses include the ionosphere, the soil chemistry of mercury, the sun’s corona, and solar wind.

In Washington, the students would be able to see an 81.12% (“give-or-take”) eclipse. The next chance to see a total eclipse, he told them, would be in 2024 when the path would go through VPOTUS’ home state of Indiana.

“These are some of the most fascinating, inspiring things we’re able to witness in nature,” he said, adding they’re matched in power and emotion only by rocket and shuttle launches.

Pam Melroy, retired U.S. Air Force officer and former NASA astronaut, said she’s excited that so many people across the country are taking the time to experience the eclipse. She told the students she hopes some of them will be motivated to become scientists, even astronauts. “You are exactly the right age to be the first person to set foot on Mars, if that’s what you want to do,” she said.

Melroy introduced VPOTUS as a “true space enthusiast” who has been looking at the sky since he was a little boy.

As she stepped away from the microphone to let VPOTUS speak, he encouraged her to stay by his side.

“I like to be seen with astronauts,” he said.

Pence said he felt like he was back in science class “and it was interesting and cool.”

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m pretty excited about getting upstairs,” he said. “We will be in the shadow of the moon. Isn’t that special to think about?”

He said the president and the administration are inspired about the future of space.

“Maybe, just maybe, we see in front of us more than a few new astronauts,” he said.

The group walked up a narrow circular staircase to the domed room that houses the telescope.

“That’s amazing,” Pence said, peering in the lens.

He helped a student get in position for a peak.

“You’ve got to shut one eye,” he explained.

Pence and the students also donned glasses to look at the eclipse through the opening in the dome. After a two-minute warning for the D.C. eclipse’s 81.12% (“give-or-take”) peak, VPOTUS encouraged everyone to go outside onto the platform.

“You’ve got have the shades on,” he reminded the students, asking one of them, “Is this a good look for me or not?”

Asked whether he watched the last eclipse in 1979, Pence said he was probably in his backyard in Columbus, Ind., using a piece of cardboard with a pinhole to view the sun.

“That’s the way we did it back then,” he told the students. “I didn’t have these really cool glasses.”

Pence called the Naval Observatory a “very special place” which he has previously toured since moving into the vice president’s house.

“Anybody want to be an astronaut?” he asked the students

One student asked Bailey what would happen if he looked at the sun without glasses.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Bailey said.

After Pence moved toward the exit, Jordan Battle, 16, asked Bailey if they could yell at the sky jaguars to get the sun to come back.

“Count down: 3 – 2 – 1!” Bailey said, prompting a group yell. (VPOTUS was at a different end of the platform and was not part of the scream.)

“It’s working!” Battle said.

As the pool was led out of the Naval Observatory, we passed lemonade and sugar cookies shaped like suns and moons waiting for the students.

The motorcade was moving at 3 p.m. and back at the White House by 3:10 p.m.

Maureen Groppe

Washington Correspondent

Office: xxx-xxx-xxxx

Mobile: xxx-xxx-xxxx

xxx@email.com

@mgroppe

usatoday.com; indystar.com

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