Solar Spectacle: 12 Questions and Answers About Monday’s Solar Eclipse

A comprehensive Q&A ahead of Monday's solar eclipse.

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For a handful of minutes, the skies will darken Monday in a total solar eclipse where the sun’s rays will be completely blocked by the moon’s orbit — something Hoosiers can only view with special glasses, but more on that later.

Our sister outlet, the Kansas Reflector, compiled its own questions and answers for their readers, which we’ve tweaked to fit our Hoosier audience. Our Kansas neighbors aren’t in the path of totality like Indiana but provided some great context before the big event.

Wait! There’s going to be a solar eclipse?

Yes! On Monday, April 8, 2024, to be precise. Portions of the state will be completely dark for just over four minutes, as detailed by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. While the skies will start to darken as early as 1:50 p.m., complete darkness will occur in Indianapolis between 3:06 and 3:09 before the skies lighten again at 4:23. Other parts of the state will roughly follow that same timeline but may be off by a few minutes.

What’s a solar eclipse again?

According to our friends at NASA: “A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the Sun. The sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk.”

Just imagine that you’re watching an important TV program and your beloved spouse passes in front of the set. They instantly become much less beloved.

Now, let’s equate your TV set with the sun and your spouse with the moon. It’s just like that.

Who will get to see it?

All of Indiana will experience some portion of the eclipse but a portion of the state will be in the “Path of Totality,” where the moon will completely block the sun. This band, stretching from Bluffton to Evansville, has attracted hundreds of thousands of out-of-state visitors for the rare event.

How rare? While partial solar eclipses happen two or three times each year somewhere on earth — and there are roughly two total solar eclipses every three years — Indiana won’t experience another until 2099.

Any advice on watching it?

Don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eyes. Let me repeat that, in italics: Don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eyes.

The sun is usually so bright that we can’t physically stand to look at it. An eclipse cuts down on the brightness, but doesn’t stop solar radiation that can cause major vision damage. This happens to people. It literally scars their retinas. They see a phantom image of the sun for the rest of their lives.

But I can still sneak a peek, right?

Please don’t do that. If you don’t believe me, listen to Shannon Schmoll, the director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University.

“We don’t ever, ever want to look directly at the sun. It will harm our eyes and can cause permanent damage,” she told journalists during a briefing organized by SciLine last week. “So to look at this, you need to use either eclipse glasses or some sort of eclipse viewers.”

So where do I find those solar viewers?

The American Astronomical Society maintains a list of reputable manufacturers and retailers. For the record, they do not recommend going to your prominent online retailer of choice and searching for “cheap eclipse glasses.” You can do better. For goodness’ sake, think of your eyes.

Some public libraries are distributing glasses and the Department of Natural Resources has glasses and t-shirts available for purchase.

Could I just use a camera instead?

Nope. An unfiltered look at the eclipse will leave your fancy digital camera literally smoking. You need a specialized lens filter to take photos of the event with a standalone or phone camera.

Okay, okay. Let’s get glasses and filters aplenty. But does this mean the world is about to end?

No. Millennia of eclipses have come and gone, and the world remains, for better or worse.

People are handling this totally normally and rationally online, right?

Haha. Of course they aren’t!

A bonkers story from online technology website Gizmodo rounds up some of the wilder claims circulating online. Among them: The eclipse will bring down electrical grids and cellphone service, it will disrupt the “simulation” in which we all live, and assorted Biblical nonsense.

Will animals act all weird?

Take a read through the briefing mentioned above. In short, we know that birds and insects quiet down during an eclipse, but they don’t freak out or anything.

“The eclipse is strong enough to suppress that daytime diurnal activity — of day-flying insects and birds going to roost — but it’s not strong enough to initiate the kind of typical nocturnal behaviors we see at sunset,” said Andrew Farnsworth of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

For their part, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recommends keeping pets at home if they have trouble with leashes but note that animals, generally, don’t look directly at the sun.

What is the state government doing?

In anticipation, Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed an executive disaster order letting Indiana call on a nationwide aid compact should the upcoming eclipse stress the state’s emergency response systems. Due to the number of people, officials expect a “widespread and significant impact” on Indiana’s “critical infrastructure systems,” including for communication, emergency response and transportation, according to the order.

Alcohol regulators are even getting in on the fun and will be able to apply for special permits.

If you might be driving, be prepared for potential slowdowns and traffic disruptions. Pack plenty of water, food and fuel along with chargers, maps and emergency kits. The Indiana Destination Development Corporation (IDDC) has a list of more tips for safe viewing.

And, perhaps our favorite thing, First Lady Janet Holcomb made ‘Path of Totality’ deviled eggs.

Any events in Indiana I should know about?

Tons! The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for example, was selected as a National Air and Space Administration (NASA) broadcast location. Now it’s got a packed schedule featuring multiple astronauts, IndyCar drivers, NASA officials and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. The brickyard will also host technical and family-friendly educational programming.

Speaking of the IDDC, they’ve compiled a comprehensive list of all the other festivities around the state.

Indiana Capital Chronicle Reporter Leslie Bonilla Muñiz contributed to this story.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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