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Safely enjoying eclipse day the Science Central way

As Indiana readies for a great view of the 2024 nation-wide total solar eclipse, maximizing the experience while maintaining viewer safety becomes a top priority.

Since the last total eclipse occurred in 2017, much has been done to familiarize and popularize such astronomical events in communities across the country, making safe practices ever more necessary to share.

From which eclipse glasses to look for and how to wear them, to best steps for navigating traffic and avoiding gridlock, these questions can make or break your enjoyment of what many have dubbed it, “the Great North American Eclipse".

Our go-to Science Guy, Martin Fishman, in action
Courtesy/Science Central
Our go-to Science Guy, Martin Fishman, in action

 For insider tips on both, WBOI’s Julia Meek sat down with Science Central’s executive director, Martin Fisher, to discuss what the day will look like and how to prepare for this extraordinary cosmic spectacle.

Event Information:

Science Central Eclipse Day Celebration, Fort Wayne
Monday, April 8
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Eclipse Day Afterparty
4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Find a complete listing of activities and information at the Science Central website.

Below is a transcription of our conversation:
Julia Meek: Martin Fisher, welcome.

Martin Fisher: Thank you.

Julia Meek: Now with this celestially spectacular event on the horizon, what makes this total eclipse so special?

Martin Fisher: Yeah, April 8, it's right around the corner. We're going to be experiencing a total solar eclipse, and we're not going to be able to experience another one for about 20 years.

What's really cool is that it's in this area. We, right here in Fort Wayne are going to be able to experience it. Now we're not going to have totality here in Fort Wayne, it's going to be about 99.8-99.9%, really, really close.

Just east of us and south of us, people will be able to experience totality. But even here in Fort Wayne, we're going to see and experience some amazing things. It's going to get very, very dark, we're going to be able to see some stars and planets.

 Of course, by using our safety glasses, we're going to be able to look at the sun to be able to see this dark disk, the moon, as it moves across the front of the sun.

Julia Meek: Okay, so no telescopes required. But what do we need to know and do and remember to ensure that safe viewing that you're talking about?

Courtesy/Science Central

Martin Fisher: Yeah, you can't look at it with your naked eye. Anyone that's listening right now, please, please, please do not go outside during this eclipse and expect to be able to look directly at the sun while it's occurring and while it's ending.

In fact, don't even look at it with sunglasses, you have to have special safety glasses. They're known as solar glasses, eclipse glasses, eclipse filters, they have many many different names. In fact, I've got a pair of them right in front of me right now. We do sell them in our gift shop at Science Central, they are the official glasses.

There are some things that you're going to want to look for to make sure that you have the real ones and not fake ones. Because as we get closer and closer to the eclipse, a lot of fake stuff is going to end up on the market. Not only are they going up in cost, but even the real ones are going to go up and cost

Fortunately, we have plenty of the real ones at Science Central. First of all, take a look at the earpieces; you're going to see some weird letters and numbers. It should say ISO 12312-2, that's an official transmission requirement that lets you know that they are real, or hopefully are real, because remember, these things are easy to fake.

The next thing you want to look at in the same area or region of the printer glasses where you saw that ISO rating, take a look for the company name. Make sure that you see a valid American company a valid American address, because if they're real, they're gonna put all of that information together.

 And then finally, there will probably be some information about safety, how to wear them, how to use them. If you don't see that it could be fake, and if you do see it look carefully, because if it's not in proper English grammar, it could also be fake.

Julia Meek: Thank you for those tips and meanwhile, many folks have their legit glasses from eclipse days gone by what's the problem with using those?

 Martin Fisher: Yeah, they do have a lifespan, I still have my glasses from 2017. I took them, folded them flat, I put them into a plastic bag, pressed out all the air, kept it flat, stuck it in between some books and kept it in the dark.

...And another!
Courtesy/Science Central
...And another!

They're probably safe. But honestly, if you didn't do all of those nerdy steps, and I mean, all of them, I would recommend go out, go to the Science Central gift shop, spend your $3.99 and go ahead and get some that are fresh, because the plastic and the coating that's on them, it does break down over time.

Julia Meek: And nitty gritty, one's eyesight is a terrible thing to lose! That can happen if we don't heed every step that you just gave us?

 Martin Fisher: You got it! You don't want to look directly at the sun without your solar glasses on because not only are we dealing with an incredibly bright light source that's capable of damaging your eyes, our eyes are sensitive to light.

But there are also various wavelengths of radiation coming out of the sun. And by wearing your solar glasses, you're safe, you can look at the sun.

Julia Meek: And besides being all about totality, what more should we know about what's happening so as to maximize the experience on that day, Martin?

Martin Fisher: Sure. Now if you're in an area where you will be able to experience totality, 100% of the sun being blocked by the moon passing in front of it, for a very, very brief period of time and only that brief period of time, you are safely able to remove your glasses, but you have to be in 100% totality and you can only remove them during totality.

 Julia Meek: And totality for this eclipse is going to be approximately...?

 Martin Fisher: It will vary depending upon where you are. Places it'll be, you know two-ish minutes, other places it could be four minutes. So you do want to go ahead and take a look at some of the websites that are out there. There are quite a few that are official and will have all of the information you need for your specific area.

 Here in the Fort Wayne area the maximum eclipse is going to occur at 3:10. And remember we're at 99.8% here at Science Central and Fort Wayne so we're really gonna get some great experiences, but we're still gonna wear our glasses.

Courtesy/Science Central

Julia Meek: And all of nature will be feeling the effect, right? What might that look and feel like?

Martin Fisher: You know, I'm really curious to see what's going to happen this time around. Are birds going to get quiet or not? I remember when I experienced in eclipse back in 2017, I started hearing crickets during totality and I thought that was rather interesting.

 What was funny was, I was focusing more on looking up, the sky, sharing that with my family, seeing objects in the middle of the day that you only see at nighttime. However, it was afterwards, I realized, wait a minute, I heard crickets, and it wasn't night!

 Julia Meek: Okay. Why is this likely to be the most viewed eclipse ever? What makes it really user-friendly?

 Martin Fisher: I think it's a couple of reasons. First and foremost, where it's going across the country. It's hitting many, many large cities and many population areas. The other piece is that our media has done a very good job, including you right here at the station, of alerting everybody.

 And that's not occurring just here. It's occurring everywhere around the United States. And I think the third piece is we learned from the eclipse that occurred back in 2017.

That one, even though national media did a great job, and people were aware of it, national media, state media, local media like you, you're doing an even better job now letting people know, and that was only a handful of years ago. So people remember. And I think it's just, you know, gelling in people's minds much, much easier.

 Julia Meek: And might we see an increase in other celestial events around this eclipse timeframe, with or without a telescope?

 Martin Fisher: We certainly will. The sky is going to be dark. So if any planets are up above the horizon at that time, you're going to see them. You'll probably see brighter stars, if you're not in totality. If you are in totality, you'll see some of the fainter stars as well.

Julia Meek: And meanwhile, what are folks going to be able to celestially immerse themselves in over at Science Central through April 8, and then ongoing,

Martin Fisher: I'll tell you; we have so many activities that are planned for the eclipse day. Outside of the building, we're going to have a variety of telescopes set up, some of them will have solar filters on them.

 These are specialized devices that go on the end of a telescope, allowing a person to safely look through and see the sun. If we're lucky, maybe we'll even see some sunspot activity that day before the Eclipse actually begins.

 We're also going to have sundial activities because we have two different types of sundials in front of Science Central. We're going to have a variety of different tabletop activities, all relating to space and astronomy. I think we even have a chalk walk activity that might be going on for our early learner visitors.

 And a little bit before the eclipse itself, we're going to do a high-altitude balloon launch. And we're going to monitor the activity of that balloon as it progresses. Even if it's cloudy that day, this high-altitude balloon will still be able to gather imagery.

Courtesy/Science Central

Julia Meek: Sounds like you've got a lot going on out there in front of Science Central, Martin, which some would say that's where the action is. What's happening inside the building on that day?

 Martin Fisher: Yeah, you're right, the real action, the fantastic things are gonna be occurring inside of Science Central. Of course, Science Central members get in for free, in fact, we're even giving Science Central members a free pair of solar glasses to be able to use during the eclipse.

 Inside of the building, we're going to have Science on a Sphere demonstrations. That's one of our very large exhibits where we can explain the science of, "what is an eclipse." We're going to have a variety of tabletop activities relating to space and astronomy.

 We're going to have what we call "make and takes" where visitors will be able to make an item, for example, their very own sundial and then take it home with them to be able to use on other days and other sunny days. In addition, we're doing something a little bit different for this, we wanted to do some cross curricular stuff, we're going to have a cultural storyteller throughout the day.

 And then in the evening, after the event is over from 4:30 to 7:00, we're going to have a post-eclipse party and it's going to be an absolute blast. We're going to have pizzas, we're going to have some drinks, sparkling wine, grape juice, we're gonna have some snacks that have kind of a science theme to them and space theme to them, things like moon pies and Capri Sun drinks. (all laugh) We're gonna have a whole bunch of those.

 We're going to be doing additional activities during the 4:30 to 7:00 post-eclipse party. We're going to be giving all of the attendees a packet of components and activities that are space-related that they'll be able to do that evening and again take home with them. And we're even going to be giving some behind the scenes tours of Science Central--the portions of the building the Old City Light and Power building that people don't get to see.

 Julia Meek: That's heliocentrically amazing and awesome, Martin. Good job! How long have you been planning this event?

Martin Fisher: Thank you. We've been planning this now for, oh my goodness, six months plus, but quite frankly, we started the initial planning of it two years ago, maybe?

 It was just kind of rough ideas at that time. And then it's slowly been getting put together, and high speed even over the last few months.

 Julia Meek: (chuckles) We like the way you think. And I am curious, Martin, not everyone knows about, cares about or partakes in the total eclipse activity. So there's likely to be some spectacular traffic and travel situations. What do you anticipate statewide and suggest to those out in the thick of it?

Martin Fisher: I can only guess on this based upon my experience from the last Eclipse, three words: traffic, traffic traffic. (chuckles) That's what I'm expecting.

 Julia Meek: (chuckles) Okay. Even as far reaching as up here in Fort Wayne?

 Martin Fisher: I really do. And again, I can't predict. So if you're listening at home, and I'm wrong, please don't get angry at me. But I think that there are going to be so many people out on the city streets, county roads, state roads and Interstates.

 Maybe not so much during the eclipse. Although as it gets closer and closer to totality, I think people are going to be stuck where they are. And they may just have to stop their car wherever they are even in the middle of the road.

Astronomical adventure, Science Central
Courtesy/Science Central
Astronomical adventure, Science Central

But I expect the real issues to be after the eclipse when locals, regional people and completely out of area tourists are trying to get back home. When I experienced the eclipse back in 2017, my family and I we went down to Nashville and it was a normal drive getting down to Nashville. I am so glad that I did an overnight hotel afterwards.

 Because my family and friends that left after the eclipse, they said that they were on the interstates and some other state roads. They just turned off their car because the "parking lots" on those roads? It was so bad.

 Julia Meek: It's to be expected, no doubt.

 Martin Fisher: Yeah, there were other cities. I wanted to go down to Nashville, because not only were they in totality, but they had a Science Center, just like Science Central.

And that's why we're expecting a lot of people to come to see us and experience our exhibits and programs and events and telescopes and other activities.

Julia Meek: You're the local Mecca and the best act in town, to be sure.

Martin Fisher: Yep. We are the only Science Center that's in this region of the country.
Julia Meek: And now you've been in the science business for decades, Martin, celestial and otherwise. Do you have a favorite solar eclipse-centric memory to share?

Martin Fisher: When I was at my very first Science Center, back when I was a high school volunteer at that Science Center, just like we have high school volunteers at Science Central, I was helping outside of the building, talking to visitors, and I remember, I was doing a parabolic reflector activity, just showing the amount of energy that comes from the sun to be able to heat up an object.

But the thing that astounded me, was at one point, when I took a look at the ground. Sunlight was passing through the leaves and branches of the trees, and I saw images of the eclipse occurring all over the ground. Hundreds, probably thousands of images of this round circle of light with this dark disk passing in front of it.

We're going to be able to experience that same thing right here in Fort Wayne, in fact one of the same ways to do that same experience at home if you don't have trees nearby, get a piece of paper or a piece of cardboard or something like a paper plate, and poke a hole in it. And then either allow the sunlight to shine down on the sidewalk below you, or onto another paper plate or piece of paper.

You'll be able to experience the exact same thing that I saw with the sun passing through the trees. The other thing you can do, and I'm gonna bring one from home to bring to Science Central, a spaghetti colander. (chuckles) You'll be able to have the exact same experience.

Julia Meek: Great tip Martin. So that clock is ticking and we are all looking forward to this eclipse, but right here right now what can we do?

Martin Fisher: Right now at Science Central, even before the eclipse occurs, get your glasses. That is the premier and most important thing to do. Fortunately, at Science Central, we've got a great gift shop and we have plenty of glasses, as of right now as we're recording this.

I would definitely recommend that people go to our website, take a look at our hours, come during those open hours, you can stop in in the gift shop without having to pay an admission fee and get your safety glasses. If you're a member of Science Central, we're giving you free eclipse glasses.

 And if you're not a member of Science Central get a membership. You'll be able to get your free glasses along with those plus of course you'll get all of the other benefits of Science Central, free admission as often as you would like, free admission that day, discounts on programs such as a discount on the post-eclipse party that we're going to be holding.

And a Science Central membership gets you into hundreds of other Science Centers around the country for free. Think about that if you're going on spring break or summer vacation.

Courtesy/Science Central

Julia Meek: And as we are all counting down those final days until the Eclipse, Martin, while we have you, our go-to science guy right here, what's your best advice for that big day in our glasses?

 Martin Fisher: I would say if you're local, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to go wherever it is that you're going. I would definitely recommend come to Science Central and feel free to stay as long as you would like.

Obviously the closer you are to home, the easier it will be for you to drive there, or to drive home. Now I understand there are a lot of adults you're stuck at work you may not be able to get out I get it. Certainly, come to Science Central because we're the closest place for all of those activities to occur.

If you are planning on going to totality, whether it's the southern part of the state or going east of Fort Wayne, definitely leave as early as you can. And you may want to consider getting a hotel just in case the roads are crazy. It may take you a while to get home.

 If you don't get a hotel, just be aware there's a chance the roads might be busy and may not get back until the wee hours of the morning.

Julia Meek: Martin Fisher is Executive Director of Science Central. Thanks for sharing your astronomical expertise with us, Martin, as well as your love of all things Central.

Martin Fisher: Thank you. I'm so glad to be able to talk about what Science Central is doing and making sure that your listeners are watching it safely.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.