Dr. Richard Gelderman of Western Kentucky University spoke with Heather Thompson of Cengage, sharing why more than astronomers are excited about this summer’s solar eclipse. Read on to get useful information about getting ready for August 21, 2017.


Heather Thompson: Generally, what can you tell me about the upcoming solar eclipse? Why are you so excited about it?

Richard Gelderman: What I can’t stress enough is that this eclipse goes beyond science. This is a HUMAN event, not just a science event. It applies to every subject area. You don’t need to care about science to appreciate the power of this eclipse.

A solar eclipse appeals to everyone and has applications for any field. English teachers can use this as inspiration for their students to write a haiku. Art teachers can have students draw what they experienced. The ability to apply this eclipse works across the entire curriculum, for Sociology, Anthropology and beyond.

HT: What is the significance of this solar eclipse to astronomers and everyone else?

RG: I cannot stress enough what a spectacular event this will be. Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? You may have seen pictures of it, but you can’t truly appreciate it until you have experienced the overwhelming feeling of actually being there. The solar eclipse is similar. The experience of seeing a full solar eclipse is going to be one of the best memories of your life. It is mind-blowing.

HT: How should people plan to watch the eclipse?
RG: Planning is essential for the eclipse. Many cities in the path of totality will double their population during eclipse day. The question shouldn’t be “Where will you be on Monday, August 21?” The question should be “Where will you be on Sunday, August 20?” The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a memo regarding the event on August 21, warning people to be prepared for a Planned Natural Disaster.

HT: Bowling Green, Kentucky where Western Kentucky University is located, is in the path of totality. What does that mean? How important is location to viewing the eclipse? Do you need to be in Hopkinsville, KY (Point of Greatest Eclipse) or Carbondale, IL (Point of Maximum Totality) to fully experience the eclipse?

RG: Everyone within the path of totality will experience the same quality of eclipse, just for different quantities of time. No one outside the path of totality will experience anything at all like totality. Don’t be misled into thinking that when the Sun is 99% obscured it will be within 1% of the experience of being in totality. That last 1% of the uncovered Sun makes the sky 10,000 times brighter than for someone in totality. Every city on the eclipse path will see the eclipse. Very near Hopkinsville, KY is the point of Greatest Eclipse, which means that the Sun, Moon and Earth are best aligned at that point. However, anyone on the central path of totality will see the full darkness of the total solar eclipse for a comparable amount of time. Each person should weigh the logistics of getting to the most popular and crowded locations and whether those additional tenths of a second are worth it. If you are at least ten miles inside the path of totality, you will experience totality lasting close to the maximum amount.

HT: What are you doing to prep for the eclipse? Are there any campus/department events planned?

RG: I have been working primarily with K-12 audiences on education, and ensuring students are equipped with solar viewers for the event. Our university has invited over 15,000 K-12 students from districts that would only experience a partial eclipse to come to WKU’s football stadium to safely enjoy totality. WKU is also hosting a viewing party for our students.

HT: What safety precautions do people need to take to view the eclipse?

RG: Never look at the Sun with your naked eyes. You can safely view the eclipse a number of ways. I personally find a solar viewer to be the best way to safely enjoy an eclipse. A solar viewer is an extremely opaque filter that is so dark, only the Sun is bright enough to be visible through the viewer. A pinhole device works as well.