There’s a solar eclipse next month: Here’s what that means

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On April 8, Indianapolis and other areas of the Midwest will be bathed in darkness for a few moments as the moon eclipses the sun in a rare astrological event. (Getty Images)
On April 8, 2024, Indianapolis and other areas of the Midwest will be bathed in darkness for a few moments as the moon eclipses the sun in a rare astrological event. (Getty Images)

The countdown to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse has begun.

Indianapolis and other areas of the Midwest will be bathed in darkness for a few moments as the moon eclipses the sun in a rare astrological event on April 8.

“The chance of seeing a total eclipse is probably once every 300-400 years so that’s at any one location on Earth,” said Aarran Shaw, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Butler University. “The rarity of total solar eclipses, that’s making this kind of such a special event and why we’re really putting all our efforts into organizing events and getting the message out there. It’s a really big deal.”

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves directly between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow on the Earth, Shaw said. The path of totality, or the 115-mile band where the full eclipse can be seen, will cross through Texas, the Midwest — including Bloomington, Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Muncie — New York, Maine and parts of Canada.

First contact, or when the moon first starts to cover the sun, happens approximately one hour and 15 minutes before totality, Shaw said. This will happen around 1:50 p.m. in Indianapolis, with totality occurring just after 3 p.m. Right before totality, there will be a big flash of light in the top “corner” of the sun, called the diamond ring, Shaw said. After this moment, it is safe to take off eclipse glasses and hopefully see what is called the sun’s corona.

Those who plan to watch the solar eclipse should wear eclipse glasses, which have a filter that blocks 99.999% of the sun, before and after totality, Shaw said. Looking at the sun directly without eclipse glasses can cause permanent eyesight damage and even blindness.
Butler University’s Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium has glasses available for guests and experts on hand to answer questions and conduct demonstrations leading up to and the day of the eclipse. Solar scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research will be onsite April 8 to collect data during the eclipse, Shaw said.

READ MORE: The solar eclipse is days away, here’s where to watch 

Totality will last three to four minutes, depending on location in the path of totality, and will cause a few noticeable changes in temperature and animal and insect behavior, said Ginger Murphy, deputy director of stewardship for Indiana State Parks.

“We’re focusing on what happens naturally when we experience an eclipse,” Murphy said. “There are some things to look at in relation to the moon in the sun. One of the coolest things that I’ve learned about is something called Baily’s beads.”

The surface of the moon is not flat, it has mountains and hills, Murphy said. Because of this, when it moves in front of the sun, right before totality, the relief may be visible along the edge of the moon, appearing like little beads on the sun and moon. The Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium and Indy Parks will have telescopes with sun filters to help guests in hopes of catching this phenomenon and the solar corona get a better look at the moon and sun during the eclipse. 

The Department of Natural Resources has 54 properties within the path of totality, including state parks, lakes, and fish and wildlife areas, Murphy said. Each of these locations will open its gates at 7 a.m. on April 8, and Fort Harrison, the state park in Indianapolis, will have a few food trucks onsite.

Overall, Murphy said the Department of Natural Resources is expecting huge crowds for the eclipse at each of its properties, with visitors coming from 44 states and three Canadian provinces. The Department’s four inns and most of the campsites are already fully booked, but there are some openings left at on.IN.gov/recguide.

The last solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 2017, when the path of totality passed through parts of South Carolina, Kentucky, Washington and Oregon, Murphy said. However, the last solar eclipse in Indiana was in 1869, and the last eclipse in Indianapolis was around 800 years ago, Shaw said.

The rarity of this astrological event makes it so special and why public schools and universities like Butler are closing and canceling classes on April 8. It is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Hoosiers and has the potential to inspire the next generation of astrophysicists and scientists, Shaw said.

“Kids who are off school on April 8 will see this eclipse and they will remember,” Shaw said. “They will see the sun disappear for almost four minutes and be replaced by this kind of glowing corona, and they will have that image burned into their brains forever, and that could be the next generation of people who want to be astrophysicists or study astronomy at school.”

The next solar eclipse in the continental United States is not until 2045, and the next one in Indiana is not until 2153. Those who see the 2024 eclipse will not have the opportunity to see one again — unless they travel to other parts of the world, Murphy said.

“A lot of people have the impression that Indiana is one giant cornfield, and in fact, it is not,” Murphy said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to introduce Indiana’s parks to people who might not think that’s a place they want to come and hopefully they’ll come back. We’ll provide great hospitality, and they’ll come back and see us again.”

For more information about the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse and where to view it within Indy Parks, visit on.IN.gov/eclipse and on.IN.gov/recguide. For more information about Butler University’s Eclipse Viewing Experience, visit butler.edu.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.