IU using rare solar eclipse as opportunity to educate, engage
Oct 5, 2023
A rare and amazing natural phenomenon will occur in the spring, and Indiana University is eagerly planning ways for all of its campuses and communities to enjoy the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
The sun's corona is visible during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, as seen above Madras, Oregon. Photo courtesy of NASA/Aubrey GemignaniThe eclipse will pass over Indiana, and IU’s campuses in Bloomington, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Richmond and Columbus will be in the path of totality. IU expects several hundred thousand visitors to its campuses on the day of the eclipse, based on the previous experiences of other universities in the path of totality.
The IU Solar Eclipse Task Force is leading university-wide efforts to educate and involve students, staff, faculty and local communities. IU departments and organizations planning eclipse activities can share that information with the task force through a survey link.
To help explain the magnitude of the eclipses and the opportunities they present for the university, Catherine Pilachowski, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Daniel Kirkwood Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, and task force co-chairs Patricia Riveire Stumpf and Doug Booher agreed to answer a few questions.
Question: Why is a total solar eclipse important, and why should people view it? How is that different from the upcoming annular solar eclipse? What should people pay attention to when viewing these eclipses?
Answer: While solar physicists can gain important information about the sun’s corona and phenomenon just above the sun’s surface from eclipses, they are important for most people because they are rare and interesting natural phenomenon that have been part of human experience since the first humans walked the earth.
Eclipses inspire awe and a profound connection with nature and the universe. People should take every opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse; there’s nothing like it.
In a total eclipse, the apparent diameter of the moon is larger than the sun, so direct light from the sun is totally blocked from view. In an annular eclipse, the apparent diameter of the moon is smaller than the apparent diameter of the sun, so the moon cannot cover the entire disk of the sun. Someone watching from the right spot on Earth will see a ring of very bright sunlight around the edge of the moon. The annular eclipse that will be visible in parts of the western U.S. will be a partial eclipse in Indiana.
Even if the sun is mostly covered by the moon, looking at an annular eclipse directly can cause damage to human eyes. Eye protection is required if any of the sun is not covered by the moon. Only during a total eclipse is it safe to look without eye protection.
People watching a total solar eclipse should look for the corona — a faint halo of light surrounding the sun. People should be able to see the red glow of solar prominences around the edge of the moon. And planets and stars will be visible in the daytime sky. We may even be able to see a comet near the sun during the total eclipse in April.
Q: With five IU campuses able to experience the total solar eclipse, what does that opportunity mean for the university? What sort of programming should people expect at the campuses to celebrate this rare event?
A: It is a great opportunity for the university to showcase our expertise in so many areas, provide education and outreach across the state and beyond, and showcase our Hoosier hospitality.
All our campuses are engaged in planning and consideration of what this event means in their area for students, faculty, staff and our community. We will have opportunities that range from lectures and learning opportunities to music, food trucks and festivities the day of, which will vary across the state. We’re excited to see how all of Indiana University celebrates this rare opportunity.
Q: How is Indiana University preparing for the total solar eclipse? What does that involve? What’s most important for people to know?
A: There are many preparations underway for the solar eclipse. Last semester, Indiana University President Pamela Whitten appointed a university-wide task force composed of 28 subject-matter experts from every corner of IU to lead the comprehensive planning effort.
The task force’s work is divided into two main areas: programs, which will focus on activities and programming not only on our campuses but also across the state; and services, which will focus on all the necessary infrastructure to host these activities. Each of the 18 task force directors has created a committee that will help advise and carry out their work. These committees are focused on everything from parking and traffic, to ensuring educational programming for all our campuses and partners.
The most important thing to note is that this presents a remarkable opportunity for IU to showcase not only our expertise in the many related fields of the eclipse, but also our ability to provide welcoming and exceptional experiences for faculty, staff, students, and the many community members and travelers who will choose our campuses as their destination to witness this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.