Viewing the solar eclipse may have been the first time people thought about what goes on outside the Earth’s atmosphere. But for Mahomet-Seymour High School Senior Will Clodfelder, the universe outside of the Earth’s atmosphere is just a telescope viewing away.
From the time Clodfelder was young, he has been interested in anything celestial. He received his first telescope, a Celestron 8-inch Nexstar 8 Se for Christmas his freshmen year. Then he received a Celestron CPC 1100 11-inch telescope for Christmas his junior year.
With the necessary equipment to view the world beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and the knowledge to educate his peers, Clodfelder formed the Mahomet-Seymour High School Astronomy Club.
The club met for the first time during the 2016-2017 school year in February. The majority of the 11-member club consisted of Clodfelder’s close-friends to begin with.
But after being available at freshmen orientation this summer, the club grew to 30 members. Now Clodfelder said he has 41 people on the club’s mailing list for a November start.
“I’m curious how many people still don’t know about (this club),” he said. “The hard part is being a student and getting the word out to people to let them know we are here.”
The MSHS Astronomy club will meet every other Tuesday after school during the 2017-2018 school year. This year’s agenda will include eight presentations on various astronomy topics, a solar viewing, night-time viewings and maybe a trip to the Parkland Planetarium.
“One of the hardest parts about the club is you can’t really plan something three weeks ahead of time because there could be clouds,” Clodfelder said.
And while he likes to keep the meetings light and entertaining by planning games with treats, Clodfelder said another surprise of leading a club is the amount of time required to prepare the slideshows.
“It takes a lot of work to be well-prepared,” he said.
“Whenever I do my slideshows I try to make it so that even if you come in knowing nothing, you can still understand everything that is on there. I can also explain the material because I have decent background knowledge through individual research because I read news articles, books and magazines.”
Clodfelder enjoys doing the work because he’s seeing an increased interest in the subject.
“There are people interested,” he said. “In one year I went from 11 people to 41, so I basically quadrupled the club. It definitely shows the interest is out there.”
Part of the draw, though, is Clodfelder’s telescopes.
“I think that’s the most enjoyable part for everyone,” he said. “Sure, they want to learn about (outer space) in a classroom setting, but ultimately, the amazing part is when they get to look through the telescope.”
What looks like a point of light to the naked eye, turns out to be Saturn, Saturn’s rings and moons through Clodfelder’s telescopes. And where the naked eye sees a black spot in the sky, Clodfelder can hone in on galaxies and nebulas.
“It’s a whole new perspective; it’s the wow moment.”
Clodfelder is on his way to study astrophysics in college next year. When he leaves the MSHS Astronomy Club may or may not continue.
While he is looking for a replacement to lead the club in the future, another key component will be missing: the telescopes.
“I will take my telescopes with me to college, and that means that the school will no longer have the equipment to actually do the viewing,” he said.
“I feel like that’s something the school should be able to get for the science department. It’s worth the investment. There are people interested.”
The Clodfelder family and a couple of Will’s friends traveled to Southern Illinois to view the totality of eclipse in August.
With a solar filter, the group was able to view the eclipse, solar prominence and the corona.
“Words cannot really describe the event,” Clodfelder said. “The most amazing thing I have ever seen through a telescope, and I have used them a fairly decent amount, is the couple minutes of totality; I could take off the filter off and look at the sun’s corona without any filter.”
“Pictures and videos don’t do it justice. You really have to be there.”
And as everyone around Clodfelder stood still for a few moments to view the solar eclipse, Clodfelder realized it was a special moment.
“As everyone is going through their daily lives, they don’t think to look up and they don’t realize what’s actually out there,” he said. “That’s one of the things I take pride in: that I’ve been able to provide views to the universe that people don’t typically get to see. I’ve been able to show someone something that they didn’t realize was there.”
For information on how to join the Mahomet-Seymour Astronomy Club, students should contact Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.