Carnegie Mellon University
August 21, 2018

Eclipse Chasers

Alumni Reunite for Unforgettable Solar Eclipse Viewing

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

On August 21, 2017, for approximately two minutes and 13 seconds, Gary Ropski watched the midmorning Wyoming sky plunge into darkness as the new moon eclipsed the sun, leaving a stunning, glowing halo in its wake. It was an unforgettable moment, Ropski said. Not only because was it one of the best views he’s seen in the 15 years since he and his wife, Barbara Schleck, began chasing eclipses, but he got to share it with his closest friends.

When he learned that last August’s eclipse would be the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years, Ropski suggested to his physics classmates, who have stayed in touch since the early 1970s, that they should reunite for the eclipse. 

When we get together, it seems as if we readily pick up conversations where we left off months or years before.

Joining Ropski and his wife on the trip were Carnegie Mellon University alumni Paul Spudich (S 1972), Ron (S 1972, E 1977) and Cathy Hughes (MM 1971) Benton, and Bill Glass (S 1971), along with a few of their friends and family.

"It’s been great that we have been able to keep our friendship going after all these years. When we get together, it seems as if we readily pick up conversations where we left off months or years before,” Ropski said.

Ropski earned his bachelor of science in physics from Carnegie Mellon in 1972 and went on to attend Northwestern University School of Law. He’s called Chicago home for more than four decades, where he’s been with the law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione as an intellectual property attorney specializing in patent litigation since 1976. On his 25th anniversary with the firm, Ropski received a Meade eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope as a gift, which spurred him to join the Chicago Astronomical Society.

At one of the society’s meetings, Ropski and his wife heard a presentation from a member who had traveled to Africa to watch a total solar eclipse. Intrigued, they embarked on their first solar eclipse viewing the following year at Kruger National Park in South Africa. This is where Ropski met fellow eclipse chaser, Bill Glass. Though Ropski and Glass graduated only a year apart, they had never met at Carnegie Mellon.

Since their first viewing in December 2002, Ropski and his wife have seen nine solar eclipses, mostly with Glass and a group of eclipse chasers led by NASA scientist Fred Espenak. Glass, who has seen 20 eclipses, researched the best locations to view the 2017 eclipse, narrowing it down to preferred spots in Idaho and Wyoming.

“We settled on Wyoming, and with Ron and Cathy’s assistance, were able to get permission to view the eclipse from the Shoshone Native American Tribe near one of their ceremonial sites,” Ropski said.

With an unlimited 360-degree view of the horizon, “the eclipse was accompanied by a spectacular view of sunset colors all around the horizon,” Ropski recalled. “We got a good look at the approaching shadow of the moon, and we had the opportunity to see shadow bands on the ground, observe Mercury and Venus in the daytime sky and feel a dramatic temperature drop of about 10 degrees immediately before totality.”

Ropski and his wife are already gearing up for their next chase. Along with Glass, they have reserved a spot on a trip to Chile, which will be in the path of totality during a 2019 solar eclipse.

Eclipse Chasers

Back Row (L to R): Lincoln Cushing, Barbara Schleck and Cathy Hughes Benton (MM 1971)

Front row (L to R): Bill Glass ( S 1971), Gary Ropski (S 1972), Paul Spudich (S 1972) and Ron Benton (S 1972, E 1997)

Eclipse Chasers

Gary Ropski and Barbara Schleck ready their cameras to capture the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years.