Solar Eclipse

Robert Hart, a Mechanical Engineering major at Penn State Berks, captured high definition images of the solar eclipse.

Image: Robert Hart

Student astronomer captures high definition images of solar eclipse

READING, Pa. — Astronomy has always been a fascinating hobby for Robert Hart, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Penn State Berks. It was a subject that he enjoyed discussing with his favorite professor, Robert Forrey, distinguished professor of physics. So when Forrey and his family traveled to Hiawassee, Georgia, and rented a cabin to view the recent solar eclipse, he invited Hart to join them.

Hart, whose interest in astronomy grew to include astrophotography over the last two years, had been planning to travel to a location where the eclipse could be viewed in totality, but that was the extent of his plan. He emailed his professors to say that he would not be in class on Aug. 21, and that’s when Forrey invited him to stay with Forrey and his family.

Hiawassee is located in northeast Georgia, near the tail end of the Great Smoky Mountains. The location was ideal for viewing and photographing the eclipse.

To capture the images, Hart used a German equatorial mount, motor-driven telescope that uses a belt motor and worm gear and adjusts automatically. He said it took hundreds of hours of testing to calibrate the telescope and camera correctly.

Solar Eclipse

Another image of the solar eclipse captured by Robert Hart.

Image: Robert Hart

“You only get one shot,” stated Hart about photographing the eclipse. And for Hart, it’s not so much about the quality of the images as the technical challenge of capturing them.

“The journey is the reward,” he said. “I always loved space and astronomy and astrophotography is a natural outgrowth.” He added that he got into photography so that he could share his love of astronomy with his friends and family.

Totality sunset

Totality sunset

Image: Robert Hart

He explained that astrophotography requires a lot of post processing. “When you look at the corona (the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and other stars only visible during an eclipse), the camera can only capture a small part. You have to take a series of larger exposures to get the final image.”

"Dr. Forrey and his family's incredible generosity and hospitality helped make this trip a complete success," Hart stated.

Forrey added, “Robert is an outstanding engineering student and a knowledgeable astronomer. His telescopes and observing skills made the experience even more memorable for my family. We were fortunate that he was able to join us.”

Hart originally planned to study aerospace engineering at Penn State University Park campus but decided to stay at Berks in part because of the close relationships he formed with professors like Forrey. After graduation, he plans to earn his master’s degree in aerospace engineering with the goal of working for NASA, building space craft or observational equipment.