October 22, 2017
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160 Seconds of Darkness

See the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21
View the full feature in the July/August 2017 issue of Evansville Living. Illustrations by Wilkinson Brothers, Inc.

For centuries on end, eclipses have been revered as life-altering phenomenons. Dates have been smudged to align historical events with eclipse occurrences. Paintings, texts, and other documents are filled with depictions of the celestial happening.

In Evansville, a rare opportunity will rise over the next seven years — the chance to witness two separate total solar eclipses. With the first eclipse making contact Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, Evansville Living launched into the hype of the event. From the science behind an eclipse to how you can view it yourself, we have the totality scope on Eclipse 2017.

COSMIC WONDER

In a lifetime, a person is sure to see at least one partial solar eclipse, where the moon just clips over a portion of the sun. The likelihood of witnessing a total solar eclipse, however, is much more rare.

Evansville finds itself in a very unique situation between this year and 2024. On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the U.S., with totality occurring over a few of our neighbors to the west and south. Seven years from now, on April 8, 2024, a second total solar eclipse will pass over the states, this time traveling directly over Evansville.

“It’s more than just a scientific oddity. It truly is one of nature’s wonders,” says Mitch Luman, director of science experiences at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science. “It is one of those events of awe that just doesn’t come around very often.”

Scientifically, throughout history, a lot has been learned from solar eclipses, says Luman.

SPACE TALK Evansville Museum Executive Director Bryan Knicely, Director of Science Experiences Mitch Luman, and Curator of Education Karen Malone are preparing the city’s museum for the upcoming rare total solar eclipse. Residents and guests in Evansville will be treated to exhibits, special planetarium shows in the Koch Immersive Theater, workshops, and more during Eclipse Weekend Aug. 19 and 20.

Total solar eclipses have allowed us to see the sun’s wispy corona (the outer atmospheric layer of the star). Records from the Byzantine historian Leo Diaconus on Dec. 22, 968, mark the first known written observance of the corona. Such views helped scientists monitor the sun’s solar cycle before the modern space age could send satellites to gather data.

French solar physicist Jules Janssen and British astronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer discovered a new element lurking in the sun’s chromosphere when they observed a solar eclipse in India in 1868. They named this new element helium, which now is known as one of the most abundant elements in the universe. These events even helped prove a prediction of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, that massive objects bend light.

Though the scientific contributions have been and more than likely will continue to be many, Luman also is quick to point out simply experiencing an eclipse is unparalleled.

“This is something that is so unusual and so remarkable people cry,” he says. “They clap at the end, just as you would after a good presentation.”

“Out of the millions who have seen it, I challenge anyone to find somebody who says they were disappointed by it,” he adds.

Total solar eclipses are not to be confused with partial eclipses. There are four types of eclipses that occur over the world — partial, annular, total, and hybrid. This makes the probability of any one person seeing one type of eclipse very high. But total eclipses are different. A formula of distance is the deciding factor — the moon must be a certain distance from the Earth to completely cover the sun and create the effect.

“The last total eclipse you could drive to in the U.S. was in 1979. All the others, you had to take a boat or a plane to,” says Luman. “The frequency for a location is between 300 and 1,000 years.”

If that wasn’t enough to convince someone of total solar eclipses’ rarity, take in the fact no other planetary body in our solar system can experience the event. The numbers can never add up, says Karen Malone, curator of education at the Evansville Museum.

“You can’t have a total solar eclipse on Mars because the moons are too small, or they are too far away,” she says. “It’s just perfectly positioned here for this to happen.”

But what exactly is it about a total solar eclipse that makes it such an awe-inspiring event? Taking away the occurrence of the sky darkening or going completely black, Malone and Luman stress there is much more to observe.

In those places along the path of totality, stars will emerge and twinkle in the darkened sky. A purple tint will be visible as only UV light will make its way to the Earth’s surface.

“Birds will stop singing, insects will kind of freak out, dolphins will surface,” says Malone. “It drops several degrees in temperature, and everything gets a shimmery quality.”

Observers will be able to see aspects of the sun not usually visible, such as the outer atmospheres of the star. But parts of the moon also will suddenly become observable as well.

“The first thing you’ll notice is the edges of the moon, which are not smooth,” says Luman. “As it starts to cover the sun, you’ll see where the lunar limb (the edge of the moon) has mountains and valleys on it.”

Moments before totality, Luman says the edge of the sun will glimmer and twinkle. Once it becomes dark, a pearly white glow will extend out around the diameter of the moon.

The only sad aspect of a total solar eclipse is its duration — in 2017, spectators only will have between 2 and a half minutes to 2 minutes and 40 seconds to experience all that occurs during the eclipse.

“There’s a reason ancient cultures would mark these as significant events,” says Malone.

Those in Evansville on Aug. 21 will not have the experience of a total eclipse, but noticeable differences still will happen, says Luman. As the moon begins its trek across the face of the sun at 11:56 a.m., the sky gradually will darken, he explains.

“The majority of people in Evansville will go through the day, perhaps only noticing in the afternoon between 1 and 1:30 p.m. that it looks odd out,” he says.

Around 1:24 p.m. the city will experience the height of a partial eclipse — about the same time of totality in Carbondale, Illinois, and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. For us in the River City, it almost will be like a large cloud creeping over the sun. The final phase of the eclipse will end at 2:50 p.m., when the moon moves away from final contact and is no longer covering the sun.

It may not be as exciting in Evansville as in our neighboring cities, but that shouldn’t take away from the significance of the event for residents. The museum will have a weekend full of activities, both educational and fun, before the Monday event.

Museum Executive Director Bryan Knicely says the museum’s involvement is important because the organization is the science authority in the region, and people will gravitate to Evansville as the largest city closest to the path of totality.

“Also, it’s possible it will be rainy that day, and we won’t get to see it. But at least you’re going to learn about the eclipse and come back in seven years to see it here,” he says.

While the museum has planned bus tours for those wishing to travel to Hopkinsville to see the event, those sticking around in Evansville still can enjoy this rare celestial occurrence. The museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and residents are welcome to come experience the eclipse together, says Knicely.

“That way you can get that sort of social experience,” he says. “We could plan something extensive with the best of intentions, but I think people will just want to have that effect of being around other people.”

After 2024, Evansville residents will have to wait until Oct. 17, 2153, for another total solar eclipse to come sweeping close by — with Bloomington, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, closest to the path of totality. That makes the 2017 and 2024 events that much more special.

“We’re just lucky to have two close together in this area,” says Knicely.

“This is the first eclipse in America during the Internet age,” adds Luman. “People could tell you about it. They could show you pictures. But if you really want to experience this event, you’ve got to be under the shadow of the moon.”

For more information on the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science’s planned events, call 812-425-2406 or visit evansvillemuseum.org/solar-eclipse-weekend.

SHADOW PLAY

At approximately 11:56 a.m. on Aug. 21, the moon will begin its trek over the sun. Here are some easy tips on viewing the event without that small shoebox pinhole camera.

Pick up a pair of solar glasses from the Evansville Museum. These are considered the safest and only way to look at the sun during an eclipse.

Cosmetic mirror, right, Luman suggests taking a cosmetic mirror and covering it with tape except for a circle shape in the center. Then, reflect the light onto a shadowed surface. Prop up the mirror,
and watch the eclipse in the reflection. 

Peg board. Prop up a piece of peg board (or anything with uniformed holes), and you’ll be able to see the moon move over the sun in the shadow.

ASK MITCH!

Evansville Museum science director answers our eclipse questions

As the Midwest gears up for the first total solar eclipse the continental U.S. has seen since Feb. 26, 1979, we sat down with Mitch Luman, director of science experiences at the Evansville Arts, History and Science Museum to get some information about the out-of-this-world event.

Evansville Living: Do we know when the first total solar eclipse passed through this area?
Mitch Luman: That’s a good question, but we really don’t know. It would take some calculating; I would have to get a computer program to run the information through. It’s probably not been since the founding of this country, because someone would have written down that something happened.

EL: Have you seen a total solar eclipse before?
ML: I have, and I was not disappointed. I think we’ve definitely all seen partial ones.

EL: Do the shoebox pinhole cameras work when viewing an eclipse?
ML: They don’t work very well. People will frustrate themselves to no end. There’s another great way to do it that basically involves taking a little makeup mirror (see above for Mitch’s tips on safely viewing the solar eclipse).

EL: Can you calculate future eclipses?
ML: Yes, they already have been calculated up to 2500 CE (Common Era). I have a map of the Earth that shows the eclipse paths for the next 2,000 years. It covers the entire Earth, and there’s only a couple thin strips on the planet where an eclipse would not be visible. Very unfortunate places on the planet.

TRAVEL TO ECLIPSEVILLE!

Evansville and nearby cities prepare for rare event

Evansville residents will have to wait until 2024 for a greater path of totality of a solar eclipse to pass over the city’s skies. However, quick trips on Aug. 21 to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Carbondale, Illinois, can offer a chance to see this year’s eclipse close to home.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky

The biggest event to ever happen in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, history — their annual Trail of Tears Pow Wow — drew around 16,000 visitors, according to Cheryl Cook, executive director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitors Bureau. But as the greatest point of the total solar eclipse occurring Aug. 21, the city expects to greatly surpass that with 100,000 to 150,000 visitors — about four times the town’s population.

“There’s a huge difference in that,” says Cook. “We don’t have that many hotels, so we’re doing primitive camping sites and viewing sites.”

She says staff already has run tests at the site to make sure everyone has a great view of the eclipse with little light obstruction. Hopkinsville also hired an event coordinator, Brooke Jung, specifically tasked to handle eclipse events.

“She has worked with the Louisville CVB and Churchill Downs,” says Cook. “She’s very well versed in tourism, and she hit the ground running last September.”

Aside from the viewing site test runs, the CVB and local Hopkinsville businesses also have purchased more than 160,000 pairs of glasses to sell for safe viewing of the eclipse and are working to bring in extra police support.

Cook says they are considering the possibility of assistance from the National Guard. State police also will allow new recruitments to head to Hopkinsville for extra backup.

With all the preparations and events, visitors and residents of Hopkinsville are sure to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime event.

“There’s several, several things going on. There will just be tons of things to do,” says Cook. “What events do we not have planned?”

For more information about Hopkinsville’s eclipse events, visit eclipseville.com.

Carbondale, Illinois

Carbondale, Illinois, is preparing for as many as 50,000 visitors the weekend of the 2017 solar eclipse, with possibly more than 100,000 visitors in the region. For the southern Illinois city, the final details of the eclipse events are beginning to come together after more than two years of planning.

“It takes a small army of people to plan an event of this size,” says Cinnamon Wheeles-Smith, the executive director of Carbondale tourism.

All schools around the area have canceled classes for the event, including the Southern Illinois University campus, hoping to avoid any unwanted safety issues and giving students the opportunity to take part in the festivities.

The university also will host many events as part of the SIU Crossroads Festival. A carnival, mainly geared toward college students, is planned with games, food, and live music from Aug. 18 to Aug. 21. In addition to this, the university will host an eclipse viewing at Saluki Stadium on campus.
The city’s tourism department also has planned a variety of activities for the eclipse weekend. The Eclipse Marketplace will begin Aug. 19 with live music and 20 vendors, selling everything from food to artisan jewelry.

In downtown Carbondale, the Eclipse Family Fun Zone will attract families with younger children. The event held at the Town Square Pavilion will have educational booths, games, and even a gospel music event on Sunday.

Carbondale Tourism encourages all to take part in the events and has an inventory of solar eclipse glasses ready for visitors looking to view the eclipse in totality.

For more information about Carbondale and their eclipse events, visit carbondaletourism.org.

Evansville, Indiana

While towns like Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Carbondale, Illinois, have to plan for hoards of visitors during the upcoming eclipse, Evansville has to face a unique and different set of challenges.

Instead of planning massive programs and events and taking precautionary security measures, Evansville is focusing on preparing its tourism industry for the overflow visitors who are sure to visit on their way to and from areas of greater totality.

“Because we are out of the primary area of the eclipse, what we have done as a community is we have put our industry on notice,” says Bob Warren, executive director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Many of the areas in the direct path of the eclipse won’t have the space to accommodate all of the visitors, making Evansville a prime destination for some who plan to drive to these areas the day of the eclipse. Warren says their main focus for the eclipse is to prepare the restaurant, hotel, and tourism industries for a higher than normal occupancy rate. He also says travelers need to anticipate heavy levels of traffic and to allow plenty of time in order to stay safe.

“The traveling public needs to know we are a great destination, and we have wonderful attractions and great restaurants,” says Warren. “Our industry will be waiting and prepared for those who want to come.”

For more information about the Evansville CVB, call 800-433-3025 or visit visitevansville.com.

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