An almost total eclipse of the sun at Penn

Thousands gather on campus to witness the celestial spectacle on April 8.

two people looking up at the sky with sunglasses on
Crowds gathered on College Green and throughout campus to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse on the afternoon of April 8. 

In the minutes that the sun was about 90% blocked by the moon at 3:23 p.m. Monday, clouds covered the solar eclipse on Penn’s College Green.

“I see nothing,” said Toyosi Abu, president of the Class of 2024, looking at the sky through protective eclipse glasses. But between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m., he said, he saw something. “There was maybe 25% covered, and it was moving in that direction,” he said. “I got to see a nice glimpse of the sun. But since then, it has been cloud-covered.”

Abu was with Interim President J. Larry Jameson, who was also looking up at the sky through special glasses, standing by the Benjamin Franklin statue in front of College Hall. Next to him were Vedika Jawa, president of the Class of 2026, and Steven Li, president of the Class of 2027, both in the Wharton School.

They agreed that, while they couldn’t see anything through the glasses at 3:23 p.m., they were happy to be there. The atmosphere was festive, people talking and laughing as they gazed at the sky on College Green and Locust Walk and Shoemaker Green and other places across campus.

Penn interim president J. Larry Jameson and other students in eclipse glasses on Locust Walk during the solar eclipse.
Penn Interim President J. Larry Jameson outside College Hall during the solar eclipse with students (from left) Vedika Jawa, Class of 2026 president; Toyosi Abu, Class of 2024 president; and Steven Li, Class of 2027 president. 

“There’s so much energy here. College Green is decked out. There are students everywhere and it’s just so much activity,” said Abu who is in Wharton and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, from Cooksville, Maryland. “It’s nice to have a good-weather day and all these people here. It’s a little cloudy, but spirits are high.”

On April 8, a total solar eclipse crossed North America, from Mazatlan, Mexico, to Montreal passing over the United States from Texas to Maine.

Students started to gather in front of The Button sculpture before the eclipse, which started in Philadelphia at about 2 p.m. and ended about 4:30 p.m. More than 500 people, mostly students, were in line when the team from University Life set up to pass out eclipse sunglasses for the watch party on College Green. They also handed out snacks, Sun Chips, and Moon Pies.

Organizers told the crowd that they would have to share the glasses, one for every group of about five, and everyone passed them around to take a peek.

“It’s wonderful that so many people are interested in the eclipse,” said Katie Hanlon Bonner of the Office of Student Affairs, taking a break from speaking with students in line. “There are very few things that bring so many cross sections of the Penn community out together. It’s special and momentous, and it’s exciting to see so many people from so many different areas of campus here.”

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. The sky darkens, as if it were dawn or dusk, as the moon casts it shadow.

Philadelphia was not in the path of totality, the closest place being in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, around Erie. NASA estimated the sun would be 88.7% covered at 3:23 p.m. in Penn’s zip code, 19104.

It was possible to see the eclipse as it progressed, and those gathered on campus were tracking it, glasses on, some in lawn chairs and others on blankets on the 66° afternoon.


But darker clouds started to gather around the sun just before 3 p.m., and didn’t clear enough to see until after 4 p.m. However, every time the sun started to peek through, a roar went up in the College Green crowd, people putting on their glasses and pointing to the sky.

“I think the energy was just so nice,” said Jawa, who is from Fremont, California. “It’s kind of exciting to see how such a big event can bring everyone out. Good energy, for sure.”

Neither Jawa nor Li saw any of the eclipse because the clouds had formed by the time they came out after their classes ended, but they said they didn’t mind.

“I’m a freshman, so I haven’t seen campus with so many people at once packed in one place. It’s really great to see,” said Li, who is from Pasadena, California.

The last total solar eclipse in the contiguous U.S. was in 2017, crossing from Oregon to South Carolina, but it was over a much less populated area. The sun was about 75% covered in Philadelphia that year.

The next total solar eclipses that can be seen in the contiguous United States will be in 2044 and 2045, NASA says, but not near Philadelphia. That will be on May 1, 2079.