2017- Speakers/Topics


June 28, 2017“Chasing Total Eclipses:  An Addictive Obsession” – John Rather, PhD.  


The August 21st total solar eclipse provides a uniquely wonderful opportunity for many Americans.  Many people have viewed partial eclipses with scarcely a ho-hum glance, but they missed the crucial point: There is a literally mind-blowing difference between a 99.9 % partial and a 105% Total Eclipse.  For a few precious minutes viewers are transported to a different world that can be remarkably beautiful and inspiringly memorable if the weather cooperates.  This is why eclipse chasing has become a worldwide obsession for many people who are willing to go to strange places to discover new cultural, geographical and psychological excitement.  It is unique indeed for this rare opportunity to offer itself free to vast numbers of people across the United States.  In this talk Astronomer John Rather will describe his adventures, beginning with scientific motivations that evolved into the thrill of the hunt combined with many inspirational human interactions.  He will show short movies of his experiences at five total eclipses around the world, hoping that this motivates parents and children to get to the centerline of totality for an unprecidented tail-gating experience.


Dr. John Rather is an astronomer/physicist/defense & aerospace scientist whose primary areas of focus have included creation of major technology programs, scientific innovation, invention of medical technologies, and development of clean energy sources.

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Dr. John Rather

His career experience includes government work with NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense.  Additionally, he has worked extensively in private sector research, development, and management, including Vice President of an aerospace company.  He has authored 9 U.S. patents.


Rather was raised in Tennessee and began his career as a research technician/physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where he worked on the team that created and developed the Bumpy Torus controlled fusion concept. He attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, earning a bachelor of science degree in physics and graduating with honors in 1963.  Following graduation, Rather went to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.  While continuing his work at LLNL, Rather pursued graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, completing his Ph.D. in astronomy in 1970.  His thesis work resulted in the first accurate measurements of millimeter wavelength radio emissions from extragalactic sources.

After earning his Ph.D., Rather went to work for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) facility at Kitt Peak near Tucson, Arizona, where he built a state-of-the-art device for 1 millimeter wavelength observations of the sun, planets, and galactic and extragalactic objects. Rather developed a system that he took to Kenya in 1973 to observe a maximum total solar eclipse. To enable the experiment, he obtained support from the USAF, the RAF, the Kenya Air Force, and the US National Science Foundation. This inter-agency experience led to major broadening of his career path.