Your Guide to the Eclipse

Graphic courtesy NASA

Astronomy 101

Caty Pilachowski has been an Indiana University astronomy professor for the last 16 years and before that worked for more than 20 years on the scientific staff of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. With her, things are always looking up. Monday, she’ll do so with much interest. And wonder. And caution.

 

Science geeks love this

“First, we love the experience. Eclipses are just mind-bending in their appeal, the emotional appeal, really. There is something so dependable about the sun. We know it rises in the east, sets in the west, we can predict it, we’re used to it, we expect it. Our entire life is built upon the sun. It’s an amazing experience to witness something like this.

“In addition, there is scientific interest. That for me is general interest. I don’t work in solar physics. For those people, it provides an opportunity to study the region just above the bright disc of the sun. Normally that’s a difficult region to study because of the glare — even with space instrumentation, it’s hard to study.”

Study time

“When bright sunlight is blocked, you can see 10,000 to 20,000 miles within the disc of the sun so solar physics personnel can study the evolution of corona, the way energy is transported from sun. The photosphere is what we see and it has a temperature of 10,000 degrees. Then there are temperatures of millions in the corona above the sun. Now, how that energy is transported is not well understood. For solar physicists, this is a chance to investigate that region.”

Road trip!

“I advise everybody to go to an area of totality. I’m going to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, with a group from Evansville Museum. Our department at IU has various people going to different places. Some to Illinois. Others will drive south until they get there. Others to Oregon.”

Class canceled

“Nobody will be left in the department that day. That’s the first day of class here at IU. What everyone is doing is planning kind of a related assignment in courses for students to explore it, write about what they see, what happens, read on it. My impression is that most of (astronomy professors) are canceling class that day just for this purpose. In other departments, classes are normal. But the campus itself is having a big party. Students have viewers to watch it. There will be a band with a stage with presentations from departments. A lot of classes will focus on the eclipse in relation to that discipline — folklore or history or physics, etc.”

What time is it?

“It’s partial where we are in Bloomington and where you are in Jasper, but still it really lasts about three hours. The maximum coverage is 2:25 p.m. and I hope people will be out observing it then because it will be — even partial — quite compelling. The first event of note will be when the first edge of the moon crosses the first edge of the sun. That’s a little before 1 p.m. We’ll see just a little crescent be cut out of the sun. Over the next 90 minutes, the sun increasingly will be covered. Totality is dramatically different than even 98 percent. But a very thin crescent of sun will remain in Jasper. It’s basically night time in regions of totality. And where I am and where you are, we’ll see a bright horizon and dark overhead. You’ll lose all but 2 percent of sunlight, so it will be substantially darker than during the day but not completely dark.”

Don’t look up unless ...

“You cannot look directly or it will cause eye damage. That 2 percent of the sun’s rays will cause damage. Get viewers or make a pinhole camera with shoebox. Go look under a tree — the light through tree leaves act as camera and make images on ground below. Also, be careful of Venus, which should be visible near the sun to the west of the sun. You have to block sunlight from eyes.

“It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to do permanent eye damage. It basically will produce regions on the retina with permanently blurred or absent vision. We are hard-wired not to look at the sun, so it takes strong intention to look and do damage. But people in this instance have that intention. The damage could be a region of blurred vision but could be a region of no vision. Even that thin sliver of the sun can do that damage.”

On how the darkness in the middle of the afternoon affects nature ...

“People tell me that birds tend to roost. Cows start to go to the barn. Animals think it’s getting dark and do their normal end-of-the-day routine. I suspect that will happen. I don’t think people will head to bed but certainly nature will respond. I’m not sure if dandelions will close. It comes on slowly enough that I don’t know what botanical implications are, but nature does respond to changing light conditions.”

On the anticipation ...

“I’ve been looking forward to it for years. And there’s another one coming in 2024. Last one in this area was in 1869 and one of the history of science professors here at IU found a diary from a faculty member here at that time, and the diary describes the eclipse in 1869. This all depends on the orientation of the moon, the placement of Earth, the tilt of the orbit of the moon. On average, there is a total eclipse somewhere on earth every 18 months. That one in 2024 will be April 8 and the path of totality moves from the Gulf of Mexico up through Midwest into eastern Canada, across Great Lakes. Jasper and Bloomington will be on the path of totality.”

Graphic courtesy NASA

Safe science

Students have been warned. Doctors have fielded calls. Employers have considered reprieves. Plenty of people have purchased (maybe are still looking for) approved eclipse glasses. Curiosity reigns.

 

Brian Wilson • Jasper High School principal in charge of more than 1,000 students who’ll head outside

“We are planning to give safety NASA-approved viewers to students, go out for 20 minutes at like 2:15 to 2:40 and there will be an accompanying lesson, something to show building-wide over TVs when we get to homeroom. It’s relatively brief. In this day and age, if they have a real sincere interest, there are plenty of opportunities, so we won’t spend a great deal of time. Then again, this is not something that happens every other week. We’ll have more than 1,000 students and 70 or so staff members and we’ll be outside. For the most part, high school kids know what’s going on and we have one teacher for every 24 or 25 kids.”

 

Ryan Erny • Fifth Street principal whose Jasper school has the youngest of the young — kindergarten through second grade

“The biggest thing is safety. Kindergarten and first grade will not go out. They’ll watch the live stream from NASA of the event on classroom TVs. Our second-graders have the option of going out, and parents have to give permission. We have other activities and other websites so kids understand it. (After school), when we’re going to car line, we’ll probably work on talking about kids keeping their heads down, letting them wear hats that day, using umbrellas from staff to hold above them as the kids walk out of the building. I’ll talk to the students in the morning in the gym. There really is a big safety side of this.”

 

Tyler Lemen • Holy Trinity Catholic School principal who scaled back the viewing parties as the school’s two Jasper campuses to protect the youngest students

“We were going to let everyone — all 380 students — go outside, but I was looking around in the gym (around younger students) the other day and I was like, ‘Goodness, I don’t know.’ So we’re just letting students in second through eighth grade view it (with a signed permission slip from their parents). The younger students will watch the NASA feed. We’ll make sure we have all hands on deck. But you can’t walk anywhere with glasses on because you can’t see. So when we get out of the building, everybody will face away until they have the glasses on. Then they can turn and look. I will watch kids. And if they’re doing the right thing, I’ll take part. I’m on high alert.”

 

Dr. Todd Gunderson • Optometrist at Gunderson Eye Care in Jasper, where his staff has fielded 10 or so calls per day with patients wanting to know more about the risks

I’m very interested, but it is a little bit scary from our standpoint because of some misinformation, lack of knowledge. I think some of the worry is people want to look at it as it gets very close (to totality) that they may feel like it’s so dim, they may take (their glasses) away and look unaided. It will still be so intense from our eye standpoint that at risk from solar retinopathy.

“A glance would be fine. But it depends on age. The younger you are, your lens is so much clearer than when you’re older, so potentially our youngest viewers are the ones who would be the most prone to damage. (Damage can occur) anywhere from as little as (a few) seconds but several people think it takes multiple minutes before there’s damage. But there’s a lot of question marks because it’s a hard thing to study because you don’t want people staring at it to test it out.”

P.S. Gunderson has children in eighth, sixth and fourth grade and he’s given them permission to watch from school, with the glasses on, of course.

 

Dr. Judy Englert • Southern Indiana Eye Associates ophthalmologist from Jasper who reminds folks there’s no treatment for eye damage caused by looking at the sun

It’s not a good idea to look at the sun regardless. A lot of glasses are not real safe because there have been a lot of knockoff bands. If you can see natural light through the glasses, they’re not good. Sunglasses won’t cut it.

“If you do stare without proper glasses, you can end up with a blind spot. It may or may not go away. There is no treatment for it. It’s very rare to see this because people don’t stare at the sun. But there is no treatment. If you burn your retina, you’ll have a blind spot and you’ll notice within 24 to 48 hours.”

 

Stuart Curtis • vice president of operations at Best Home Furnishings in Ferdinand, where the work schedule has been altered to allow employees to watch

“Best has strived to adjust manufacturing schedules to permit shifts to end by 1 p.m. Monday where possible. For manufacturing activities continuing after that time, an extended afternoon break will be taken from 2:10 to 2:30 during the peak of the eclipse. In addition, safety instructions concerning viewing the eclipse are being distributed to all employees.”

 

Jason Hulsman • director of marketing at Jasper Engines & Transmissions, where Monday’s work day will be cut an hour short

“We want our associates to be able to experience the spectacle and wanted to be willing to adjust the schedule. For manufacturing associates, typically they work from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. but on Monday (for the plants in Jasper and Crawford County), they’ll be working 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. then on Tuesday they will work 6:30 to 4 to make up the time. They’ll be able to see the optimal time. Then in our Willow Springs, Missouri, facility, they’re central time, so they’ll adjust lunch time so they can see optimal in their location. The people services department said there were people interested in seeing it, and this doesn’t happen all that often, so ...”

Graphic courtesy NASA

Weather or not

Zack Taylor, a meteorologist at National Weather Service bureau in Louisville, which covers Dubois County, is one of the folks who’ve been studying Monday’s forecast since before it was actually logical to study Monday’s forecast. If it’s cloudy, don’t blame him. But know this: He’s hoping for clear skies ... and he’s feeling the pressure.

 

Well, work your magic

“Well, we’re hoping it’s not cloudy. Even more than a week out, we were getting within range where we started to see long-range models for that day. Hopefully it becomes a clear forecast and we’ll see if there’s a storm system. Typically September and October are drier here so those are the best months for clear weather. Summer’s not bad either. It depends on afternoon showers and storms that can pop up depending on conditions. With the path coming through around 2 local time, it’s about when we start seeing afternoon showers pop up. We’ll see how things go that day.”

Better be specific

“Normally we can get away with saying mostly, partly cloudy. This day, we really have to hone in on cloud cover particularly for that afternoon period. Starting earlier this week, we put online a cloud cover forecast for Monday.”

What about clouds?

“Even if it’s cloudy, you’ll still have a dark sky. In terms of viewing the actual eclipse, it will be more difficult. But I’ve never gone through this so what we’ll actually see is outside my scope. Basically it’ll be like night for two minutes, I think. That’s really cool. It’s an exciting time, pretty rare.”

Worst-case scenario

“That would be a totally overcast day, one that’s socked in clouds. That’s probably the least ideal, where there’s no breaks in clouds, no opportunity for holes. If the whole region is covered in clouds, it’s not as viewable. The pictures and experience won’t be the same.”

Pressure’s on

“I think when it comes to any event — a winter storm, a tornado outbreak, an eclipse — we definitely work hard on getting it right. But this is another opportunity to provide a specific type of forecast. We put effort into anything but with this one, we pay more attention to cloud cover forecast. During the day Monday, we’ll have more updates and tweets and things about what we think clouds will do.”

Everybody works

“From the Louisville office, we’ll have several people deployed. We will have a staff member at Frankfort, Kentucky, and another in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, (a point of totality) where there’s another regional operations center setting up, a temporary center just for this event. We will have several people in our office and one of those people will be dedicated to the eclipse. The NWS Paducah office is within totality path. And Nashville, Tennessee, office is in the path, too. We’re coordinating with them for forecasts.”

Legends and myths

Throughout time, eclipses have created responses and beliefs that have become folklore. The reactions of past cultures to the solar eclipse still interest people today. Here are a few:

 

• Flowers planted during the eclipse in Italy are thought to grow more colorful.

Eclipses that occur six months after, or on your birthday, is a sign of impending health problems.

Precipitation occurring after a solar eclipse was considered harmful.

The eclipse could cause cleft palates, birth defects or birthmarks to unborn children.

The Batammaliba of Africa use the eclipse to reconcile with enemies.

In India, people still do not eat during the eclipse because food cooked during that time is considered harmful to their health.

The Navajo gathered together and would abstain from eating, drinking, and sleeping.

People from different cultures would come together to make loud noises with pots and pans to scare away the demons causing the eclipse.

The Chippewa would shoot flaming arrows into the sky to reignite the sun.

Armenians believed that a dragon swallowed the sun during an eclipse.

In India, a recently beheaded deity, Rahu, would fly into the sky and eat the sun.

In Norse mythology, the fading light is meant to signify a wolf getting too close to eating the sun goddess, Sol.

The Maori of New Zealand believed that the god Maui tried to capture and tame the sun.

And these are actually true:

Colonial Orb-Weaving spiders deconstruct their webs at totality, and then reconstruct their webs immediately after.

Birds fly back to their roosts.

 

Interviews and information gathered by Jason Recker and Mila Vernon.




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