Solar eclipse spans the country for the first time in a century


Janie Gleaves

On August 21, the United States will see its first solar eclipse to span coast to coast since 1918. Solar eclipses happen about every 2-5 years around the world, but they often appear over oceans, or in sparsely populated areas. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the path of sun’s light to earth. The moon blocks most of the sun’s light, leaving a circle of darkness surrounded by a thin ring of illumination.

GIF via Time Magazine

“It becomes dark, temperatures fall and birds quit singing, as they think it’s the beginning of an evening. Strange shadows race across the ground as the moon is just about to cover the entire Sun,” said Mr. Bob “Swoop” McLain, librarian and former weatherman, who has witnessed a total eclipse.

Hoosiers will have the chance to witness the closest a total solar eclipse has come to our state in recorded history. Here in Indianapolis, we will see about 91 percent of totality, meaning that the moon will cover about 91 percent of the sun. The eclipse will begin at 12:57 p.m., reach its height at 2:24 p.m. and end at 3:48 p.m.

Photo by Kylie Donaldson

Nashville, TN will be the largest city to experience complete totality, meaning that 100 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon. Senior Bobby Manchir’s family is travelling to Nashville to experience the once-in-a-lifetime sight.

“My mom has always been intrigued with space, and we love the state of Tennessee, so we thought it would be a fun trip,” said Manchir. NASA estimated that 200 million Americans live within a day’s trip of totality, so traffic and crowds are to be expected. Visitors to Nashville and other cities in the arc of totality, including the Manchirs, have had to book hotels months in advance.

But housing isn’t the only preparation observers have made. “We have been looking all around for the certain glasses we can wear so we can look at the sun,” said Manchir. Past eclipses have caused many to go blind.

Why is the sun more harmful during an eclipse? It isn’t that the sun is brighter, it’s that people’s eyes are more vulnerable. A solar eclipse obscures the sun’s light, making it dark outside. When it is dark, pupils dilate to let more light in so vision is better. However, during a solar eclipse, the sun poking out from behind the moon is still as strong as ever and can harm the sensitive eyes.

Special glasses made to view the eclipse filter out all but 0.003 percent of visible light. These glasses must be used, especially in places like Indy where the entirety of the sun’s light is not being obscured by the moon. As one may guess, the glasses are in high demand. However, most vendors have sold out, and glasses are retailing for hundreds of dollars on Ebay and Amazon. Experts recommend that if you cannot get a pair of solar eclipse glasses, wait to watch it on television.