Caleb Whitcomb with his Astronomy Slam! award.

Caleb Whitcomb with his Astronomy Slam! award.

Caleb Whitcomb worked in a retail store when he first heard about the total solar eclipse that would cross the nation in 2017. The chance to see this rare celestial event roused his interest in physics and astronomy—subjects he had not thought about since leaving college many years earlier.  

“I remember in my youth learning about eclipses and thought about how cool it would be to see one. I thought, why not go see it?” Caleb said. 

He rounded up some friends and planned a trip to the center of the eclipse’s path in Kentucky on a farm.  

At this point in Caleb’s life, astronomy was little more than a minor curiosity. He tried to study physics in college several years earlier, but decided higher education wasn’t for him. He was content with his job and viewed this excursion to the eclipse as nothing more than a minor field trip. 

But as the eclipse plunged the world into shadow and the sun’s corona shone brilliantly behind the moon, something changed in Caleb. His desire to understand the workings of the universe reawakened and he knew he must go back to school. 

“We saw it, and it was quite a transformative experience,” Whitcomb said.

Students looking at eclipse

“It actually made me want to go back to school.” 

Fast forward to 2024, and Caleb is about to graduate with a master’s degree in physics and a thesis on binary star system eclipses. These star systems consist of two stars tightly orbiting each other. However, they are so far away from the Earth that they appear to be one star. Their close orbits cause one star to block the other’s light as they rotate around each other, making them appear to twinkle.  

Caleb investigates this twinkling and the celestial phenomena that affect it. He uses data from Earth-based telescopes at Ball State and around the world, and space-based satellites such as Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). This information can reveal details like inclination, temperature and composition of the star, and helps astronomers model the system. He plans to graduate with his master’s degree in Spring 2024.

The Stars Align

Caleb tried secondary education out at Earlham College 10 years ago. He studied physics but decided he wasn’t ready for college yet. He went to Ivy Tech off and on over the next few years, then began working in retail. 

After witnessing the total solar eclipse in 2017, he decided to take classes at Ivy Tech to transfer to Ball State and study physics and astronomy. He arrived on campus in Fall 2019. The free planetarium shows cemented his interest in the universe. 

Planetarium Show about Eclipse

“I went to the Planetarium and saw a couple of shows and thought that would be cool to do as a job part-time.” He talked to planetarium director Dayna Thompson about a position and began his work there a few weeks later. 

He now runs planetarium shows for groups, delivers scientific talks, and operates the complex machinery for presentations. Caleb competes against other astronomy students in the annual Astronomy Slam! competition. Participants take over the planetarium to wow audiences with impressive visuals of celestial phenomena and win the title of Astronomy Slam champion. 

“One of the best parts of doing planetarium shows is listening to the kids go ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’ when they see certain stuff or learn certain cool things about the universe,” Caleb said. 

Caleb plans to assist the planetarium with its solar eclipse preparations and watch the eclipse on Ball State’s campus with his family and was recently interviewed by WRTV.

Read more about Ball State’s eclipse plans here.


The Charles Brown Planetarium hosts free educational presentations for the community regularly. Eclipse glasses are available for free at the planetarium. Donations are accepted.