Solar eclipse 2017: what you need to know

On Aug. 21, for the first time in nearly a century, an exciting earthly phenomenon will occur for nearly three minutes: a total solar eclipse visible from coast-to-coast. 

According to NASA, a solar eclipse takes place during the new moon, when the moon passes in front of the sun, completely blocking the sun's radiant light. This causes a shadow to be cast on the Earth.

The path of the total eclipse, referred to as the path of totality, will sweep across the U.S. from the Oregon coast to the South Carolina coast between 10:17 a.m. and 2:47 p.m. While the entire country will be able to see the eclipse, it will not appear the same everywhere. As the Earth spins during the eclipse, certain sections of the U.S. will see different versions: a partial or a total shadow.

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An accessible version of this graphic is available online. Graphic by Milana Katic, IU Communications

And while Indiana isn't in the path of totality, a partial shadow will be visible from all Indiana University campuses.

There are cities where the eclipse will be more visible than others. At 99 percent covered, Evansville is the best city in the state to view the eclipse. For cities with IU campuses, New Albany will be 95.7 percent covered; Bloomington, 93.9 percent; Columbus, 92 percent; Indianapolis, 91.5 percent; Richmond, 89.5 percent; Kokomo, 89.1 percent; Gary, 87.2 percent; and South Bend, 85.5 percent.

While partial or annular eclipses – where the Moon covers the Sun's center, leaving a ring-like shape visible -- occur more frequently, only 14 total solar eclipses have been visible in the United States over the past 100 years. This is the first total coast-to-coast solar eclipse since 1918 -- before the interstate highway system even existed.

"Eclipses are rare events for two reasons: the size of the moon's shadow, which is only about 70 miles wide, and the 5-degree tilt of the moon's orbit, which causes it to rarely line up between the sun and the Earth," said Patrick Motl, an associate professor of physics and associate dean in the School of Science at IU Kokomo.

According to Motl, a total solar eclipse only occurs on any given spot on Earth every 375 years.

Safe viewing

Looking directly into the sun can do serious damage to one's eyesight, which is why it's imperative to take the proper safety precautions before viewing the eclipse.

"The only safe way to view a partial solar eclipse is using special solar filters, such as 'eclipse glasses' or hand-held solar viewers," said Arthur Bradley, an IU School of Optometry professor. "Looking at the sun without proper equipment will damage the fovea, the most important part of the retina. Often people aren't even aware of the damage since the retina lacks pain receptors."

To safely view the eclipse, Bradley recommends using a solar viewer from one of five manufacturers found to meet international eye safety standards by the American Astronomical Society or a pinhole projector.

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Proper solar eclipse viewing glasses should be used to ensure safety while viewing the eclipse. Photo courtesy of the Office of Science Outreach

Celestial celebrations

Along with the distribution of proper solar eclipse viewing glasses, activities will take place on IU campuses across the state in honor of the rare phenomenon. See what your campus has planned:

  • IU Bloomington

    Volunteers will be handing out 10,000 solar viewing cards and providing safety training at the 11 IU Guides locations across campus. Exact locations are subject to change. Due to limited supplies, only one card will be distributed per person. 

    CelestFest, a campus viewing party, will take place from 1 to 9 p.m. at the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater and will feature food, activities and music. Enjoy food from Traditions Catering and local food trucks with eclipse-theme specialties, like galaxy cookies, moon pies and tacos. Music will be provided by a Pink Floyd cover band and a DJ. In an effort to be green, organizers are asking participants to return their solar viewing cards to designated areas after the event rather than throwing them away. 

    The event is organized by the Indiana University Bloomington Office of Science Outreach, IU Arts and Humanities Council, IU College of Arts and Sciences and IU Bloomington Office of the Provost.

    The eclipse will be visible in Bloomington from 12:57 to 3:49 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:25 p.m.

  • IUPUI

    The School of Science will be distributing 2,000 eclipse viewing glasses.

    The school is also hosting an "Eclipse Science Meetup" from 2 to 3 p.m. at University Library East Lawn, between the Science and Engineering Laboratory Building and the IUPUI Library. The IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning will also host a watch group on the north slide of the library. Viewers may pick up eclipse glasses while supplies last from CTL in IUPUI Library Room 1125 or the School of Science at the event.

    The eclipse will be visible in Indianapolis from 12:57 to 3:48 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:25 p.m.

    UPDATE: The Center for Teaching and Learning has handed out all of their supply of eclipse viewing glasses. The School of Science will still have a supply of 2,000 glasses available during their event the day of the eclipse. 

  • IU East

    IU East will host an eclipse viewing party from 1 to 4 p.m. at the West End Bank Plaza, outside the Student Events and Activities Center. Visitors will be provided a free pair of eclipse glasses while supplies last and will also be able to view the solar eclipse through a specialized telescope.

    To learn more, visit the Eclipse 2017 LibGuide created by campus librarians.

    The eclipse will be visible in Richmond from 1 to 3:50 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:27 p.m.

  • IU Kokomo

    Eclipse viewing glasses and informational packets will be distributed while supplies last at academic buildings across campus. Eclipse-themed snacks, such as moon pies and eclairs, will be distributed as well.

    Patrick Motl, associate professor of physics and director of the IU Kokomo Observatory, will present a public lecture on the eclipse at the Havens Auditorium from 1:30 to 2 p.m.

    To view the phenomenon, a live stream from the IU Kokomo Observatory telescopes will be available to students, staff, faculty and the public at Kresge Auditorium during the eclipse.

    The eclipse will be visible in Kokomo from 12:57 to 3:47 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:24 p.m.

  • IU Northwest

    The Office of Student Activities will be handing out goodie bags while supplies last-- containing polarized eclipse-safe glasses and a timetable with information on the start, peak and ending times of the solar eclipse -- to students entering the campus beginning at 8 a.m.

    A "Solar Eclipse Station" will be set up in a tent on the central quad area from about 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sun-themed music will be playing in the tent, and free ice cream bars and water will be available.

    The eclipse will be visible in Gary from 11:54 to 2:43 p.m. Central Daylight Time, with the peak viewing time at 1:20 p.m. CDT.

  • IUPUC

    Eclipse viewing glasses will be distributed across campus while supplies last.

    A viewing party will be held at 1:30 p.m. on the back lawn. Eclipse glasses, fact cards, sun chips and moon pies will be available. The NASA programming will be live streamed in a gathering room for those who prefer not to go outside during the event. 

    The eclipse will be visible in Columbus from 12:58 to 3:49 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:26 p.m.

  • IU South Bend

    The Physics and Astronomy Department and the IU South Bend Society of Physics Students will host a viewing station at the Welcoming Back Fair from 11 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. A portable telescope will be available for people to view a projected solar image.

    The fair will also include stations featuring a "sun funnel" for projecting an image of the sun that several people can view at once; a solar filter so the sun can be observed through the eyepiece; pinhole projection devices 3-D-printed at the Wiekamp Educational Resource Commons; several simpler pinhole projectors made from cardboard or heavy paper cards with a true pinhole; and a scale model of the Earth and moon to demonstrate how they align during the eclipse.

    The Physics and Astronomy Department will also distribute eclipse viewing glasses while supplies last.

    The eclipse will be visible in South Bend from 12:57 to 3:44 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:22 p.m.

  • IU Southeast

    As part of the "Week of Welcome" activities, the School of Natural Science will host a viewing party, "Throwing Shade -- Total Solar Eclipse 2017," from 1 to 4 p.m. Free solar eclipse viewing glasses and moon pies will be distributed while supplies last.

    Faculty members from the School of Natural Science will be on hand to distribute pamphlets about the eclipse, and a live stream of NASA's eclipse coverage will be broadcast at the event.

    The eclipse will be visible in New Albany from 1:04 to 3:52 p.m., with the peak viewing time at 2:30 p.m.

The next solar eclipse visible in the United States will occur in 2024. For that eclipse, Bloomington will be in the path of totality.