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South Carolina State University president/pilot grounds himself on eclipse day

If the Total Solar Eclipse had made its way across South Carolina a little more than a year ago, James Clark – pilot, businessman and a former trustee of South Carolina State University (SCSU,) would likely have been flying August 21.

Clark was named the historically black institution’s 12th president in late June 2016. “If I were not the president, committed and delighted to being on campus on Monday, I would like to try to fly through the eclipse. I would fly to the point where there was 100 totality and follow its path all the way through.”

Clark has built, from scratch, and flown private aircraft, primarily out of Hamilton-Owens Airport.

Keen understanding of atmospheric conditions is central to a pilot’s success.

His awareness of eclipse as a learning opportunity is “one reason I am so pleased that SCSU is being recognized for its role.” Clark explained that SCSU is part of Citizen CATE, a national team of students, citizen scientists and professional astronomers that will operate more than 70 sites across the country. Participants will capture data before, during and after the eclipse to be studied later. SCSU Astronomer Don Walter is leading this state’s contribution.

In addition to SCSU, other Citizen CATE institutions in the Palmetto State are Clemson University, Lander University, Coker College and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, along with two citizen sites.

“Coming to our campus to collaborate with our students are students from the University of Alabama,” Clark said. “The student team will launch a balloon that will capture information about temperature changes and other pertinent information related to the eclipse. The resulting video will be available for further study, across the country.”

Clark said when the multiple sites combine data from the sequential observations taken along the path, more than 90 minutes of totality will enable solar astronomers to study dynamics of the inner portion of the solar corona in unprecedented detail.

Instead of being in the air, Clark will be in the SCSU Bulldog’s Dawson Stadium “which can accommodate a lot of people. Interestingly, the best seats seem to be on the visitors’ side.”

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