‘Bad Astronomer’ to speak on eclipse at IUK

Feb. 2—In case you hadn’t heard, April 8 is going to be a big day for Indiana and much of the country.

That’s when a total solar eclipse will pass over the United States, including some of the most populous cities.

The path of totality — where the moon will completely block out the sun — includes Indiana cities Indianapolis, Anderson and Muncie.

Kokomo is on the edge of the eclipse path. Southeastern parts of the city will experience totality while northern areas will not.

“At worst, you’ll have to drive a few minutes (south),” said astronomer Phil Plait.

Plait, known as The Bad Astronomer, will help prepare the local community for the historic day during a dinner event Feb. 26 at Indiana University Kokomo.

Over dinner, Plait, who worked on the Hubble Telescope team, will give a preview of the April 8 eclipse.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” he said. “I make a lot of jokes.”

Plait has published multiple books and dedicated much of his career to educational outreach on space science through blogging.

Above all else, Plait will encourage the audience to go see the eclipse. Plait experienced the 2017 total solar eclipse in Wyoming, calling it a “profound emotional moment.”

“It’s one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see in your life,” he said. “Whatever you have to do to get in the path of totality, do it. Absolutely make sure you can see it.”

It’s also worth seeing as it will be the last solar eclipse to pass over the United States until Aug. 23, 2044.

Plait will also talk about how to view the event safely and where to find legitimate eclipse glasses.

Ensuring a safe viewing means one will be able to view the corona of the sun once the moon blocks out the surface. The corona is the outside of atmosphere of the sun.

“It’s a very faint phenomenon,” Plait said. “It’s gorgeous. It’s this wispy ephemeral glow.”

A fun fact — Plait had plenty during his interview with the Tribune — is the corona is hotter than the surface of the sun at 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, however if one could be in the corona, all other factors aside, you’d freeze. The sun’s surface clocks in at 10,000 degrees.

Why this is the case is still unknown. Scientists have studied the corona for decades but have only been able to partially able to explain why it’s hotter than the surface, according to NASA.

Solar eclipses are an opportunity to study the sun’s atmosphere, which is another reason April 8 is a big deal for the scientific community. Plait said most instruments that measure and study the sun are better when used on Earth as opposed to space. There’s also logistical difficulties in getting that type of equipment into space.

Expect a few strange and unusual things if you take part in the eclipse.

Plait said viewers won’t notice it getting darker until about 80% of the sun is blocked out. Then it’ll set in.

During totality, one will see the stars in the sky — in the middle of the afternoon — Jupiter will be visible, too.

Totality will last between roughly three and four minutes, depending on location. In Indiana, it’s around three minutes.

Plait said one’s shadow will change as the eclipse occurs. Shadows usually have a fuzzy outline but during the eclipse, those edges will sharpen into clearly visible lines.

“It’s weird,” he said. “You don’t know why it’s weird, because you never experienced this before.”

Solar eclipses happen a couple times a year. The next one will occur Oct. 2, though it will pass over mostly over the Pacific Ocean.

Math and the orbits of the Earth, moon and sun allow scientists to predict eclipses years, even centuries, in advance.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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