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  • Writer's pictureClay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector

Solar spectacle: 15 questions and answers about the great Kansas eclipse of April 8, 2024

Updated: Apr 6

Millions of people in the U.S. traveled many miles see a total eclipse in August 2017. Here, the SDO spacecraft captures an image of a partial eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. (NASA)


By Clay Wirestone, opinion editor, Kansas Reflector


Let’s avert our eyes from the Kansas Legislature for a moment and look toward the skies.

Actually, before you do that, make sure you have a pair of special solar viewers. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, we have a solar eclipse on the way. Enjoy these 15 questions and answers — informed by actual experts — about the big event.


Wait! There’s going to be a solar eclipse?

Yes! On Monday, April 8, 2024, to be precise. It should be most visible from 1:45 to 2 p.m., depending on your location in the state.


What’s a solar eclipse again?

According to our friends at NASA: “A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the Sun. The sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk.”


Just imagine that you’re watching an important TV program and your beloved spouse passes in front of the set. They instantly become much less beloved.

Now, let’s equate your TV set with the sun and your spouse with the moon. It’s just like that.


Who will get to see it?

Everyone in Kansas should witness some degree of the solar eclipse. The far northwest of the state will see the least, with a bit more than 70% of the sun covered. Those in the far southeast will see about 95% coverage. If you want to watch the full Monty, so to speak, of 100% coverage, you have to drive to Arkansas.


This map show the path of a total solar eclipse across the United States next week. Areas outside of the path of totality, including all of Kansas, will still see most of the sun obscured. (NASA)


How much will I see if I, you know, decide against traveling cross country?

I advise this handy website, sponsored by a NASA grant. It lets you to enter any ZIP code and reveals the eclipse extent for your neighborhood. In Lawrence, where I live, we should see about 88% coverage. Most anyone in eastern side of Kansas should be in good shape.


Any advice on watching it?

Don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eyes. Let me repeat that, in italics: Don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eyes.


The sun is usually so bright that we can’t physically stand to look at it. An eclipse cuts down on the brightness, but doesn’t stop solar radiation that can cause major vision damage. This happens to people. It literally scars their retinas. They see a phantom image of the sun for the rest of their lives.


But I can still sneak a peek, right?

Please don’t do that. If you don’t believe me, listen to Shannon Schmoll, the director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University.


“We don’t ever, ever want to look directly at the sun. It will harm our eyes and can cause permanent damage,” she told journalists during a briefing organized by SciLine last week. “So to look at this, you need to use either eclipse glasses or some sort of eclipse viewers.”


So where do I find those solar viewers?

The American Astronomical Society maintains a list of reputable manufacturers and retailers. For the record, they do not recommend going to your prominent online retailer of choice and searching for “cheap eclipse glasses.” You can do better. For goodness’ sake, think of those eyes.


Could I just use a camera instead?

Nope. An unfiltered look at the eclipse will leave your fancy digital camera literally smoking. You need a specialized lens filter to take photos of the event with a standalone or phone camera.


Okay, okay. Let’s get glasses and filters aplenty. But does this mean the world is about to end?

No. Millennia of eclipses have come and gone, and the world remains, for better or worse.


People are handling this totally normally and rationally online, right?

Haha. Of course they aren’t!


A bonkers story from online technology website Gizmodo rounds up some of the wilder claims circulating online. Among them: The eclipse will bring down electrical grids and cellphone service, it will disrupt the “simulation” in which we all live, and assorted Biblical nonsense.


Will animals act all weird?

Take a read through the briefing mentioned above. In short, we know that birds and insects quiet down during an eclipse, but they don’t freak out or anything.


“The eclipse is strong enough to suppress that daytime diurnal activity — of day-flying insects and birds going to roost — but it’s not strong enough to initiate the kind of typical nocturnal behaviors we see at sunset,” said Andrew Farnsworth of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.


Want to know more about the eclipse? Here is a link to a brief video about the phenomena.


Does the Kansas Department of Transportation have advice?

Indeed. KDOT and the Kansas Highway Patrol want drivers to pay attention to the road if they’re out and about during the afternoon. Expect plentiful cars and scads of distracted drivers, especially as you near the (ominous music, please) Path of Totality.

“Remember that the shoulders of highways and interstates are for emergencies only,” said KHP Capt. Candice Breshears. “Finding a safe and secure location to view the eclipse is a must for all travelers to make it to their destinations safely.”

You can always head to www.kandrive.gov or call 511 for road conditions.


Any events in Kansas I should know about?

You can find a great breakdown of Sunflower State solar showcase events at the official Kansas tourism website. It lists celebrations in Hutchison (the Cosmosphere, naturally), Great Bend, Wichita and Overland Park, as well as the Big Brutus electric shovel. NASA’s website highlights “astronomy themed activities” at the Flint Hills Discovery Center.


When will we get to do this again?

That’s a great question! Time Magazine lists upcoming total solar eclipses at its website, and the next one to pass through Kansas should arrive on Aug. 12, 2045. If you don’t want to wait 21 years, you can check out a list of partial solar eclipses and lunar eclipses for Topeka right here.


Is this good for the country in some way?

I can’t imagine it being good or bad for the United States or Kansas. However, the Washington Post opinion section bravely charged forward with a hot take.


“A four-minute spectacle will not repair the fabric of our country rent by years of mutual distrust, yet if enough of us stand in the path of the moon’s shadow on April 8, the eclipse may remind us of the unity we long to restore,” wrote science correspondent David Baron.

That sounds about as unlikely as former Republican Sen. Pat Roberts showing up at a news conference with Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids. Oh, wait.


Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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