PSU Leads the Way in Eclipse Field Work
Plymouth State University is among 70 colleges and universities across the country working on NASA’s Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project.
moving animated image of eclipse
This largest eclipse field campaign of its kind has over 1,000 participants studying atmospheric effects during solar eclipses, and PSU’s distinctive approach is in keeping with the interdisciplinarity that is at the heart of the Cluster Learning Model.

Of all the participating schools, Plymouth State is the only university to have two NASA-funded atmospheric science teams. Seventeen students and three faculty from diverse academic backgrounds are working together to bridge art and science. “All teams are making contributions scientifically, but the natural beauty of solar eclipses provides a tremendous opportunity to look at this event through an artistic perspective. I think we’re leading the way with developing artistic elements,” says Meteorology Professor Eric Kelsey, who leads one of PSU’s two teams.

balloon illuminated while being held
Emily Roy ’24 photo.
balloon during sunset
Emily Roy ’24 photo.
Both teams have been cross trained by Kelsey and his applied meteorology student, Genevieve Picciano ’24G, on scientific software that collects data from weather balloon launches, and students also worked onsite with Art Professor and Team Co-Leader Kimberly Anderson Ritchie, capturing cyanotype photos along the eclipse path. “This is a historical photography process that doesn’t use a camera or lens; it’s a direct process that uses sunlight,” says Ritchie. “Students coat the paper with cyanotype solution, and when it is exposed to sunlight, they can capture the eclipse projected through shadows onto the paper.”

Producing cyanotype photos worked well when the PSU team journeyed to New Mexico in October to observe an annular eclipse, in which approximately five percent of the sun was showing. Kelsey described this as a warmup to a total eclipse in April 2024, which will be visible in parts of the northern hemisphere including northern New Hampshire. “During that eclipse, the moon will be closer to the earth, it will appear bigger and cover the entire sun. Experiencing a total eclipse is completely different than seeing any bit of partial eclipse—it’s night and day.”

students with balloon
The Plymouth State teams in New Mexico.
Cyanotype photos are just one way that students will visually demonstrate the effects of the eclipse to the greater public. The ballooning project coincides with “soundscapes,” another NASA-funded initiative involving tiny sensors the size of triple A batteries that will record audio of the natural world before and during the eclipse. Soundscapes can reveal interesting data on animal behavior during an eclipse. “A lot of animals, but not all, behave as though it’s nighttime. Mosquitos and other bugs come out, birds go home to roost, and crickets chirp,” says Kelsey.

The project team’s artwork will be shared on campus in 2024. It won’t just be work from the art students, however, as students from various majors will contribute their own perspectives on the eclipse through cyanotype photography and other media. “One student is planning to make a temperature blanket from their team’s recorded temperature observations, and others are planning to work with the graphs and data that visually represent their field work,” says Ritchie. “We’re also interested in discovering what comes from the soundscapes and what we can do with that audio.”