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Vail students part of nationwide solar eclipse project

Posted at 10:01 PM, Aug 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-12 01:47:32-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) On a cloudy afternoon at Cienega High School, the Cienega Astronomy Club was busy setting up a telescope. 

The students were going through the motions for the real thing, something that hasn't happened in the United States in 99 years.

"On a normal day when it's not cloudy, we check the drift," said junior Bentley Bee. "And that's been our biggest struggle we've been working on overcoming is the drift of the camera, getting the motor and everything set up to follow the sun."

Bee is one of 10 Cienega students who will travel to Nebraska for the total solar eclipse as part of the Citizen CATE Experiment by the National Solar Observatory. The students will be in charge of one of 68 telescopes across the country.

Each one of the telescopes will track and record the sun and what's happening right at the surface during the eclipse. If all goes well, Jack Erickson's students will help produce a 90-minute video of the eclipse as it crosses the U.S. Erickson says it will be the first video of it's kind.

Erickson teaches honors freshman physics and astronomy at Cienega. He's also the supervisor for the Astronomy Club and will be traveling with the students to Nebraska.

"Being a science teacher it's awesome to find experiences like this to share with students," Erickson said. "So all ten of the students will be named in a peer-reviewed paper in a science journal which is a big step for scientists."

The telescope equipment can be finicky, which is why the group has recently been meeting every few days. Setting up the telescope is very much a team effort, but each student has a specialty. On this particular Thursday junior Brynn Brettell is logging GPS data. 

"It's really important that they know where we are so he can stitch together the data more accurately in line with the sites," Brettell said.

After months of preparation, in a word Bee says he's "excited."

"I really feel honored to be part of it," Bee said. "It's also super exciting."

Erickson says the trip was made possible by tax credits given to the Vail School District.