The solar eclipse is almost upon us, and for Kentuckians, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Scratch that, “once in a lifetime” is underselling it.
Andrew Spence, the Kentucky Science Center’s manager of public programs and events, talked with Insider about just how special this eclipse is, safe ways to view it, and some of the events the Science Center is holding this weekend in preparation for Monday’s celestial event, as well as how you can hang with Kentucky’s official center of science on the big day itself.
“It’s the first time since 1869 that a total eclipse has been visible from this state,” says Spence.
Now, just in case you didn’t pay attention in science class, a solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, blocking out a varying amount of light depending on where you are.
Nearby in places like Hopkinsville and Logan County, the eclipse will be complete, and only a corona, or ring of light, around the sun will be visible.
But exactly how visible will the eclipse be in Louisville?
“Here in Louisville, we will not be in the path of totality, but we’re going to get an extremely high amount of the sun covered, so it’ll be like 95 to 97 percent of the sun covered by the disc of the moon at its peak,” he explains.
We won’t be able to see the stars come out, but we can watch one of the most spectacular pageants the sky has to offer.
But do it safely.
“This is a big deal, because everybody is going to be looking up on Aug. 21st, and you have to have proper protection,” says Spence.
He says that there are three categories of how to watch the eclipse, and this education and preparation is a big part of what the Science Center is offering.
“One of the things we’re doing in preparation for the 21st is discussing a variety of viewing options,” says Spence. “There are unaided, indirect and direct viewing options. A lot of people are asking about glasses — we’re getting a sense of eclipse-glasses hysteria passing through the region.”
For example, Heine Bros. was giving away eclipse viewing glasses earlier this month, but they are completely gone. Maybe you can find them somewhere else, maybe not. Remember, these glasses are special, not just sunglasses, and they offer a safe way to directly observe the eclipse. And in addition to special viewing glasses, you can wear a welder’s mask or goggles, as long as it’s a No. 14.
Other aided and natural ways to view the eclipse include simple and elaborate contraptions, as well as just standing under a tree, watching the dappled light underneath slowly transform and disappear.
The Science Center is ready to teach you all about these methods.
“We’re doing an eclipse viewing lab in our building, so you can come in here and build a shadow box — which is a pinhole projection that goes through a cardboard box — so you have your own little solar observatory you wear on your head,” says Spence.
And if you are dead set on direct viewing but missed out on getting glasses, the center has some DIY options.
“You can make a mylar screen, essentially customize your own eclipse viewing glasses,” he says.
Normally Insider doesn’t feature farflung events, but this is a total eclipse of the sun, so here’s Spence’s rundown of the Science Center’s big event in the path of totality.
“Our ‘Science in Play To-Go’ traveling early childhood experience right now is at Logan County Public Library, and that’s in Russellville. So our fingers are crossed. Russellville is flying just a little below the radar,” says Spence. “We are having a full-day experience, so if you are looking for a destination in the path of totality, we’re going to have space science content happening all day there.”
If you’re Louisville bound the day of, or just afraid of end-of-the-world type traffic that is expected on the interstate on Monday, there is plenty going on in town.
At the Science Center, you can meet Spence and the rest of the center’s crew on Main Street between 1-3 p.m. Viewing devices, including a solar telescope from the Louisville Astronomical Society, will be available to passersby.
You can tune into Facebook Live throughout the day for safety tips and science content as Science Center staff travel to watch parties around town.
If you’re not the outdoor type, you can visit the museum to watch the eclipse on screen from the safety of the center’s Tech Forum and enjoy a “Journey to Space” marathon every hour on the hour from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
As if all that goodness isn’t enough, while you’re down on Main Street, walk a few doors down and check out KMAC’s exhibition focusing on eclipse-inspired art.
Thrill of discovery and the wonder of science isn’t reserved for kids, so find some way to enjoy this once-in-a-couple lifetimes event. And if you discover that science is something you want to spend more time with, the Kentucky Science Center has programming for grown-ups throughout the year.
The Science Center is located at 727 W. Main St. For ticket packages or to become a member, check out the website.