The Bad Astronomer talks total eclipse

Written on 03/19/2024
Patrick Munsey

This article is brought to you by Freedom Financial. The Kokomo Lantern currently has eclipse viewing glasses available for free for the public. To obtain glasses, respond to this article in the comments or email We’ll get the glasses to you ASAP.

Indiana University Kokomo has embraced the upcoming total solar eclipse as the historic and unique event it is. On April 8, people in Kokomo and within a 120-mile-wide swath of shadow running from Texas to Canada will experience an eclipse the likes of which won’t be seen again for years for a lucky few, and never again for most.

In honor of this astronomical occurrence, IU Kokomo has held a series of informative events, and on Feb. 26 it hosted “The Bad Astronomer” Dr. Phil Plait, who spoke on the many aspects of the total eclipse, what viewers should expect, and how to view the eclipse safely.

“It turns out in Kokomo what you see depends very much on where you are in town,” said Plait, who noted that the edge of the eclipse’s path runs through the middle of the city. Those south of downtown will experience totality – less than one minute on average – while those north of the line will not experience totality at all.

The closer one gets to the center of the eclipse will experience totality much longer, with the duration exceeding four minutes in places like Bloomington. The eclipse will attract literally millions of people to the path of its totality, and Plait warned that traffic, hotel rooms, and basic resources all will be strongly impacted.

Such was his experience in 2017 when Plait observed the last total eclipse to cross North America from Wyoming. His advice was to plan ahead, stock up a bit on needed items, and stay in place an extra day or even two as eclipse viewers leave the area en masse.

But much more important to Plait was his encouragement to viewers to make sure to watch the eclipse rather than spend time recording it.

“Listen, you're really going to want to use your video camera,” said Plait. “You're really going to want to take pictures of (the eclipse). Don't. Just don't. Other people will take pictures. Other people will take videos. Just stand there and experience it. Be there. Be present for this event.

“The important thing is when the eclipse actually happens -- and it's going to be partial for a few hours, and then total for few minutes -- all the magic really happens. Magic is a word I don't use lightly. But it is magic; not like fantasy magic or wizard magic, but magical in that sense of emotion and wonder and awe.”

So, once the eclipse is here, how does someone watch it? People are taught from an early age not to look directly at the sun. Yet, with an eclipse, that’s exactly what happens to view it. Fortunately, there are several methods to experience the eclipse safely.

“Don't look at the sun without protection,” said Plait. “The sun is very bright. If you look at the sun, it can damage your eye can damage your retina. There are reports of people being partially blinded. by looking at the sun during an eclipse. It burns little holes in your retina. You can learn to ignore them just like you ignore floaters in your eye, but it's irritating. Those can be permanent.

“When you're looking at the sun during an eclipse, you want to be careful. So, how do you do this? Up until totality some of the sun is going to be shining, and it's very bright. So, you do not want to look at it directly without protection.”

Plait recommended using special eclipse glasses that block the majority of light coming through them. The glasses, if properly manufactured, will block 99 percent of the light from the sun, Plait said, leaving more than enough light to view the eclipse as it approached totality.

“They are a perfectly safe way to watch,” said Plait. “And then once the moon completely blocks the sun, you can take them off and just look at the sun. I urge you to do that because you'll see the corona. Maybe you'll see those red filaments and everything.”

However, viewers must be very careful. Once totality ends, the danger resumes instantly. Plait said viewers must be aware of the timing and protect themselves before totality ends. For Kokomo, those 40-odd seconds will feel very short and should be treated as such.

Aside from the stunning corona and once-in-a-lifetime view in the sky, there will be plenty of changes to observe on the ground. Plait said that the temperatures will drop, and it will appear as if it was nighttime. The stars and planets will be visible. Birds will go silent. Crickets will begin chirping. And for some – especially in Kokomo – the area still illuminated by the sun will be visible by looking north.

Of course, the experience changes drastically if April 8 turns out to be a cloudy day.

“I was looking at some statistics earlier, and historically on April 8, it's like a 50-percent chance of clouds for Kokomo,” said Plait. “And in an El Nino year, which we have this year, the chances are like 70 percent. So, there's a good chance it's going to be cloudy. But you might be perfectly clear.

“Even cloudy the eclipse is going to be cool. It's still gonna get really dark right at 3 p.m. It's gonna be like nighttime, and you might be able to see the clouds lit up to the north. It's not the inspiring moment of seeing the corona, but still interesting.”

The next IU Kokomo “Dark as Dusk” eclipse event takes place on Mon., March 25, the KEY Academy looks at eclipses from different perspectives. Participants will “learn about eclipses through the lens of Native American traditional stories, first-hand experiences from an eclipse chaser, and a scientific approach towards the April 8 event.” The event is free to the public and runs from 7-8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium on the IU Kokomo campus, 2300 S. Washington St. To register, visit .

The Kokomo Lantern currently has eclipse viewing glasses available for free for the public. To obtain glasses, respond to this article in the comments or email We’ll get the glasses to you ASAP.