A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

The next total solar eclipse will not occur across the United States until August of 2044. Photo by Ryann Bahnline

RYANN BAHNLINE | NEWS CO-EDITOR | rbahnline@butler.edu 

On April 8, Indianapolis will experience the first total solar eclipse visible in central Indiana in almost 1,200 years. A total solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon in which the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, covering the sun’s light and casting a shadow over the Earth. A solar eclipse happens about every 18 months. However, it is rare to be in the path of totality during a total solar eclipse.

The eclipse will enter the United States in Texas and follow a path across the country until it reaches Maine. The eclipse will start here in Indianapolis at 1:50 p.m. with totality occurring at 3:06 p.m. It will conclude at 4:23 p.m. 

Amandeep Basra, a junior astrophysics and astronomy and physics double major, explained that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students. 

“If … [someone] decides to stay in Indianapolis for the rest of your life, your chance to see your total solar eclipse goes all the way to once every 375 years,” Basra said. 

Butler is celebrating the occasion as well. Classes have been canceled across the university and students are encouraged to participate in activities put on through Holcomb observatory. 

Dr. Aarran Shaw, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and the associate director of Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium, described the eclipse viewing experience that Butler is planning. 

“We’re going to start around midday,” Shaw said. “We’ll have more than a dozen telescopes set up around the observatory pointed towards the sun. We’ll have all of our student guides working and helping people look through those telescopes. You’ll be able to see things like sunspots on the surface of the sun.” 

In addition to seeing sunspots, right before totality, people will be able to experience what is called the diamond ring effect. The moon is not a perfect circle, and its geography causes unusual phenomena in the sky during an eclipse. 

“[The moon] has mountains and valleys,” Shaw said. “As the moon finally moves over the sun, the last of the light from the sun will be streaming through those valleys. We see that as a kind of bright flash of light, it looks like a diamond ring around the moon.” 

People will need eclipse glasses to view this effect, as it does not happen during totality but right before. According to NASA, “viewing any part of the bright sun through a camera lens, binoculars or a telescope without a special-purpose solar filter … will instantly cause severe eye injury.” 

Shaw and Basra emphasized that anytime an individual is looking at the sun, they need their eclipse glasses on. The only time when the glasses can be removed is during the three or four minutes that the area is in totality. 

Kira Baasch, a senior astronomy and astrophysics and physics double major, explained why solar eclipse glasses are necessary. 

“Everyone knows about not looking at the sun … when it’s not eclipsed,” Baasch said. “Basically, if you have glasses, you can look at the eclipsed sun. Say you don’t have glasses, maybe make a pinhole projection system to see the shadows of it. There’s a really good graph that shows the exponential dip [of the sun’s power] when it is 90% eclipsed it is still 100,000 times brighter than a totally eclipsed sun.” 

Students are able to get eclipse glasses from Irwin Library while supplies last. 

For students and the public attending the viewing experience, there will be food trucks as well as a team from Citizen CATE around campus during the event to show off their scientific equipment. This equipment will be used to study the corona of the sun. 

Baasch is a part of one of the volunteer research groups that comprise Citizen CATE. 

“[Citizen CATE] is funded by [National Science Foundation] and NASA,” Baasch said. “We’re studying the inner corona of the sun and polarized light for the first time. It’s high school students doing it, college students who aren’t majoring in astronomy at all. It’s everyone … so many people are getting a chance to do astronomical work, it makes me really excited.” 

The data gathered from each Citizen CATE team will be compiled into a 60-minute film that “reflects the magnetic structure of the sun’s middle corona, revealing the electron density and showing how magnetic energy is converted into heat,” according to the Citizen CATE website. The website adds that “the movie will also reveal the motion of density features in the middle corona, allowing scientists to measure the strength of solar wind.” 

The corona of the sun is visible once totality has occurred during an eclipse. According to Shaw, the corona is the outermost layer of the sun. It is much fainter than the Sun’s surface and is much less dense, so it is rarely seen. 

“On a normal day, the light that we see from the sun, that’s coming from the sun’s surface, what we call the photosphere,” Shaw said. “That is so much brighter than the corona that, on a normal day, you’d never see the corona. But once you cover that sun surface you get to see that kind of wispy white, outer layer of the sun. That’s something that you only have one shot at seeing right during a total eclipse.” 

Shaw was blown away by the sun’s corona during the 2017 eclipse and wants to emphasize that people will see the sun in a way unlike ever before. 

Aside from the corona, there are other astronomical phenomena that will be visible during the eclipse. Basra said that people should not stare just at the sun for four minutes, but explore the sky for other interesting sights. 

“The four planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus — will be in a line,” Basra said. “The sun will be between Venus and Jupiter and Saturn and Mars will be below Venus. They’re pretty visible … you can see them pretty easily with your eyes.” 

In addition to the planets, Basra said the entire constellation of Orion will be visible along the horizon, which will be an orange color from the light coming inward from places that are not experiencing totality. Further from the horizon, the sky will turn into a deep magenta-purple color. 

Off-campus, there are several other eclipse events happening in the Indianapolis area. White River State Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana State Museum and the Indiana State Fairgrounds are just some of the nearby sites hosting viewing and events for the public to experience the eclipse. 

“We really encourage people to use this time to view the eclipse because who knows when you’re going to have another chance,” Shaw said. “It is a big deal. It is one of the defining events in Indianapolis. Whether you [watch] here at Butler, or [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] make sure you make a plan.” 


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