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SLU Meteorology Students Make the Most of 'Once in a Lifetime' Eclipse Experience

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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The 2024 Solar Eclipse Offered an Opportunity to Expand Knowledge on Solar Events 

JACKSON, MO - A team of student researchers from Saint Louis University’s School of Science and Engineering, led by Robert Pasken, Ph.D. associate professor of Meteorology, studied the meteorological impacts of the 2024 solar eclipse on Monday, April 8. 

The team, comprised of graduate students Maggie Ideker, Riley Jackson and Benjamin Schaefer, along with seniors Jimmy Bergmann, Carter Hickel and Jack Rotter, sent up weather balloons and drones up during the totality from a dedicated location in Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson, Missouri.

Meteorology students take in the totality of the solar eclipse at Trail of Tears State Park on April 8, 2024. Photo by Sarah Conroy. Launch SlideshowMeteorology students take in the totality of the solar eclipse at Trail of Tears State Park on April 8, 2024. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

“It is indescribable,” said Bergmann. “I still can’t believe it.”

A solar eclipse is a natural experiment wherein the radiation of the sun is temporarily removed. That removal typically causes a decrease in temperature and an increase in relative humidity.

The students were looking to measure small-scale changes in the weather before, during and after the eclipse. Sensors recorded temperature, relative humidity, pressure, wind speed and wind direction, among other variables. 

Ideker flew one of two SLU drones during the experiments. She said she was eager to dig into the data to see how the information varied between the drones and the weather balloons released at the same time. 

“This is the culmination of years of work,” Schaefer said. “This was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad that I got to experience this here with this group of people.”

Jackson concurred, noting that he and Schaefer both wanted to study weather from an early age.

“If you had told 10-year-old me that I would get to be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Schaefer said he was most eager to see how forecasted predictions ahead of the eclipse compared to their data during the solar event. 

“I want to see if the modeling holds up. Much of what we did today was based on the last eclipse in 2017,” he said. “I want to see if there are ways to improve upon that for the next one.”

Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 15,200 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.