(soft upbeat music) (upbeat music) - Welcome to a special edition of InFocus.
I'm Jennifer Fuller.
We are roughly one year away from the next total solar eclipse that will cross over Carbondale and other parts of Central and Southern Illinois.
So we thought we'd talk a little bit about what to expect and what was learned the last time we saw a total solar eclipse in this region.
With us, our experts in this field.
Bob Baer is a specialist in the School of Physics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
He was very involved in the planning and the execution of the last event in 2017.
And Mike Kentrianakis is a self-described eclipse chaser.
You were here in 2017 as well.
Thank you both for joining us, I really appreciate it.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- So as we record this, we're roughly one year away from April 8th, 2024.
That is the next solar eclipse that will pass through the United States.
Bob, what are you expecting and planning for at this point?
- So in April, well we're expecting a lot of people to come back.
We know that people had a great time last time.
It was pretty exciting to see that many people come on campus and so many people have a positive experience.
That's feedback we don't often get from so many people.
We had some interest right away after or as people were leaving after Eclipse 2017 saying, "You know, when can I get tickets, you know, seven years out.
Can I get tickets for the next event yet?"
So we're doing a stadium event.
Again, we're having Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society host the stadium event.
And it'll be a little shorter this time, five hours was a long time in 2017.
So we're shortening that up to about two and a half hours, more focused.
We're spreading out across campus a little bit more, defining some other observation areas.
People did that on their own last time.
Remember we had about 15,000 in the stadium, another 15,000 visitors roughly outside the stadium, just enjoying the open campus, the atmosphere that we had here.
So a little bit different because of the weather, because of the, you know, the time it is during the year in April.
But the weather outlook, the percentages, long-term climate is pretty similar to what we had in 2017.
And because we're right on the center line of the crossroads of the 2017 and 2024 eclipse, we're still getting a lot of people looking.
A lot of people wanting to come back and experience it in the same spot or see it from where they went to school.
A lot of alumni interested in coming back.
Mike, you've seen several total solar eclipses and a lot of people say, "Well, this is something you need to experience once in your lifetime if you can."
Having seen more than one, what are you hoping to get from 2024 and how is this going to compare to what you've already experienced?
- I would say that each time is a unique experience being that it's in a different location for the most part.
And that's the exception where Carbondale is the same location and that was an attraction.
The three things of an eclipse are to, one, try to see one from your home, and maybe see one on your birthday, and the others to go see it in the same place twice.
I mean, how lucky is that?
It's very rare.
And this is one of the rare ones in our lifetimes, hundreds of years.
I mean, there's one in Africa that crossed twice or in one year span, but a seven year span is short.
But each total solar eclipse is completely different.
It's different in terms of climate, in terms of weather, in terms of who you're meeting, who the local people are, what country, what currency, what language, how much it's gonna cost, what to expect or what not to expect, how to prepare for it, how far are you going.
What's great about this is I live in New York and I felt strange when I hopped in my car with my suitcase and drove here.
I didn't get in a plane.
I was always, since 1979, at that time it was a 38 year difference.
We called it a drought of total solar eclipses in North America and it kind of disappeared from the minds of people.
And I had known it would come back, I was 14 years old at the time and returning here at, well 56, I hate to admit my age, but at 38 years later and I said, "I'm not going to the airport?"
"No, Mike, you're just driving to Carbondale from New York."
And I drove straight here, it was the strangest thing.
I didn't believe it was gonna happen and it happened.
It really did happen.
And one thing that you know for sure.
And I had thought that, hey, it's gonna happen again.
You will go there, plan, get to know everyone, and then I can just do it again at the same place.
You know, that's kind of interesting, like, you know, why would you do that and such?
Well I think that's interesting in itself to do the same thing twice because you can't do that with an eclipse 'cause it's all over the planet and at such great time spans.
So, it's a different experience.
- That unique experience is something that I think not just Southern Illinois University, but other scientific organizations, NASA for example, will be keeping a close eye on in Carbondale and Makanda where it crosses at the exact same place to look at the differences.
Bob, what are you focusing on?
You were so involved in the Citizen CATE experience and other scientific examinations of what was going on.
So what are you hoping to compare and contrast as these two events happened so close together?
- Well, like Mike said, every one of these eclipses is different.
So the corona looks different because it's evolved over time.
- The corona, of course, is that light around the outside, the outside surface of the sun.
- Yeah, it's actually, it's the atmosphere.
So it's the solar atmosphere and that actually extends out over the earth and it's responsible for, you know, life here.
So we like to study the sun.
The Dynamic Eclipse Broadcast Initiative is kinda the evolution of the Citizen CATE experiment.
Dr. Matt Penn, who started CATE, he actually developed the project and then I was fortunate enough to be a COI on that project.
He's adjunct faculty here at SAU now.
We're really fortunate to have him here.
We actually have an astronomer here as well now, Dr. Corinne Brevik.
They're both in the school of physics with me, which I'm really excited about.
So the Dynamic Eclipse Broadcast does, similar to what CATE did, with telescopes all along the eclipse path.
And we were very fortunate to get an initial National Science Foundation grant to fund 20 of those sites that are gonna be operated by girl groups.
There's actually like a, I don't wanna call it a competition, but you applied to lead one of these groups and then 20 of those groups will get trained and set up telescopes along the path.
And we have additional applications in to NASA for additional funding to try to fill that out, to have telescopes outside of the path.
And we're doing that solar science again, we're using smaller telescopes, more portable.
The first time around, I traveled to Indonesia with a pretty good size telescope and a pretty good size mountain this time around.
Instead of carrying a case this big, our telescope fits in an eyepiece case.
It's about this big.
And it's an exciting trip we have coming up to test that.
But from around the world, I was telling Mike as we were coming in this morning, I've had groups contacting me for high altitude balloons, other research observations and saying, "I have about 50 people to bring.
I have about 30 people to bring."
And I was like, Mike, and I'm up to about 130 people so far in those groups that wanna come here.
Some people like to see it from the same location twice.
It's also very, very convenient from a research standpoint.
You know what it's like there, you know that we have the telescope pads out at the dark side out at the farms that you can utilize, you know the infrastructures here.
And that's one thing that NASA EDGE really liked about this.
They liked the support that they got on campus, how professional campus was, and then the atmosphere, this electric atmosphere of everybody getting behind the idea of the eclipse and the whole, not just the science, but the human experience of it.
And so, yeah, I'm just really looking forward to it.
I could talk forever about the research and the events coming up.
And people can find more information.
They can go to eclipse.siu.edu, get some more information about what happened in 2017, so that they can perhaps prepare for what they could see in 2024.
Now, one of the ways that you and a team from SIU are preparing for 2024 is by visiting another location for a total solar eclipse.
As we record this, it's not yet happened, but as people are watching, it will have already happened.
There will be a total solar eclipse that crosses through the South Pacific.
So you're headed to Australia, you're headed to New Guinea.
- Left New Guinea.
So what are you hoping to learn from that experience being just a year away from what's happening across the United States?
Mike, I'll start with you.
- What am I, the question is?
- What are you hoping to experience and how will that compare you think?
- Well, I'm hoping to experience another total solar eclipse, which is an enjoyable, visceral.
I, you know, I actually get a loss of words when I start to describe it, I cannot.
It's a feeling that's immediately puts you into the now, it's visceral.
It really is the definition of awesome that's used so loosely.
Now you're filled with awe.
You're looking at this otherworldly experience of seeing the solar corona.
Which is out there every single day, but we cannot see it because the sun is so bright, it's blinding it, it's behind it.
You can't look up.
But then when it's covered, it's extinguished it's photospheric light the bright light that there.
And then this corona can be seen and you see it safely.
You could look at it without a filter or just with your own eyes and take it in.
And it's the most beautiful natural wonder you could possibly see.
And it only lasts for moments, just from seconds to maybe a maximum of seven minutes or so.
And here we're gonna get a really long one, a four minutes and nine seconds.
And I've been explaining the difference as I was here yesterday teaching a class with the students at the television studios that it's twice as long, almost twice as long, and it will be twice as dark.
It will really go into darkness, total night after it reaches two minutes because the shadow is just so large, there'll be no light along the horizon to light it.
And even the corona, bright inner corona is covered more so there's less light coming.
So it's like a full moon but it's gonna be much darker.
And that's even rain or shine.
So if it's, I don't wanna talk about inclement weather, but if it does happen, we're talking complete night, night.
And then, what's going on more than a storm night?
You know, total night, that's what it is.
And it's unusual because it's right in the middle of the day.
- So even if you saw 2017, you've not seen anything yet.
- You're just gonna see something different, completely different.
So don't expect to say it's the same thing, it's the whole thing.
It's just gonna blow you away.
I hate to say that, but that is really what, it's everyone, everyone doesn't, you see the reaction on people, it's nothing you expect.
And you start to see there's another part of somebody, how they feel about life that comes out.
And everyone's together in that moment.
And you're not talking about anything else.
You're not talking about what's happening tomorrow during that moment.
You're looking at this and I mean, I've been known from my viral video.
I didn't expect, I asked 'em to erase the audio and they didn't.
And it became viral and of course I kept saying, "Oh my God, Oh my god."
You know, like that.
- Sure, sure.
Bob, as we mentioned, you and a team of students and other scientists from SIU are headed to Australia as we record this.
What are you learning there and what are you hoping to teach the students?
Because they may still be here next year for the Carbondale eclipse.
- So, yeah, that's a good point.
Most of the students are actually gonna be here still.
And it's a combined group.
We have a smaller research group, there's four of us on that group, myself and three of the students that will go next Tuesday right away.
And we're going to be driving from Perth up to Exmouth Australia, which is a little over 800 miles if you drive it straight.
But we're doing the zigzag, around 1200 miles and doing observations, practices along the way.
Outreach and working with Western Australia's astro-tourism department.
And we're doing that because this isn't just a one off trip, Australia has several solar eclipses coming up and it's a good place as a test bed for what we're doing.
So with a new setup, when you go to image the corona, it's not just, I'm gonna walk outside, and click some pictures, and everything will be okay, and I'll use my auto focus.
It doesn't work that way.
So these are high dynamic range images, you have to take multiple exposures.
It happens so fast.
In Australia, it's around a minute.
So you have to practice, practice, practice.
You have to write scripts, so some of the students right now are working on Python scripts to set the exposures, the length of the exposures, the amount of time it goes through.
And it's collection of scientific data.
It's beautiful scientific data, but it is scientific data.
So that's the primary thing we're doing for the Dynamic Eclipse Broadcast Initiative or DEB, is practice.
Make sure that we have the exposure levels correct, make sure that we can pull in that data and then create HDR, high dynamic range images, on the fly to share those with the world.
Because although it is scientific data, we want people to see that.
We're going to be using some of those DEB sites in 2024 as remote sites for the telescope feeds.
So it's not just about, you know, what we see here is gonna be gonna be awesome and the event here is awesome, but the broadcast, the streams that go out will pull from those feeds across the country.
So, I mean, that's one piece of it.
We're also testing some solar systems telescopes that will also be remote feeds.
Some people from the area might remember the Lunt SunLab that was here in 2017 and that was an impressive ground-based solar eclipse observatory towed around by a semi and we're using that again.
So we plan for that to be on campus.
We also have a student team who has smaller, more portable scopes, but that match the capabilities.
And so we're testing that out with the smaller scopes, of course, 'cause we can't take the semi to Australia.
- That might be a little bit, a little bit tricky.
We'll work on that for next time, right?
You know, people may, you talk about sharing this with the world.
There is a different perspective this time as well because this eclipse doesn't follow the same path.
The 2017 eclipse, as people may remember, traveled from northwest to southeast.
This eclipse will travel from southwest to northeast.
There are different populations that are involved here, different people who may be traveling versus not traveling for the last eclipse event.
How important is it to kind of get that mix of perspectives?
You've both talked a little bit about that human element, that experience that in some cases is indescribable.
But having that as something that perhaps scientists study, whether they're anthropologists or others, having that human experience, how important is it?
- I think it's real.
I mean, that's it.
The science is really cool and we learn a lot from it but that feeling, Michelle Nichols from the Adler Planetarium was here and she was asked kind of a similar question, what did you like about it or what do you remember?
She said it was that feeling, oh my gosh, you know, that Billy Jean played in Saluki stadium.
As we're leading up to the eclipse and we see a partial eclipse, it's that anticipation and then experiencing it with a group or even by yourself is just highly emotional.
And that's one of the reasons I do outreach is to encourage people, you know, or expose them to science and then they know what it is, you know, and then decide do you want to do that?
Do you wanna go into that?
And the eclipse does that like nothing else.
It's the biggest outreach event for the nation and, you know, for this campus as well.
One of our Citizen CATE experiment co-investigators, Richard Gelderman said it, the eclipse is not a science thing, it's a human thing and we all experience it.
- Mike, you talked about your viral video that for better or for worse you are perhaps most known for.
But it was a very real moment, a very real experience for you.
Do people need to get into the path in order to have that experience?
Can you get the same experience just from watching video or looking at photographs?
- Absolutely not.
That's an easy answer, easy question.
You need to be in the path of totality and even if it means just getting to the edge of the path, even if you're in for one second, you'll still see Corona, you still will see Bailey's beads, the beading around.
Is actually a different phenomenon that occurs at the limits, we call them, the northern and the southern limit.
And you just have to get into that track anywhere, and you don't have to be on the center line.
And as soon as you move in just one mile, the percentage it goes up asymptotically to like minutes already.
Yes, are you talking about the differences in the path?
During spring and fall, the path will have a northerly direction and summer and winter it will have a easterly direction because of the configuration of the geometry between the earth, the moon and such as this period district going around the year.
But it does present challenges in terms of weather because when you're going from north to south, it's normally warmer here in the North America and the south and versus the north.
That spring, it could be cold or it could be warm like it has been this time around, really, really warm and clear days.
We don't know.
But August also was just as chancey, you don't know.
Many people are looking to go to Texas because generally speaking the climate is drier, they have clearer days, but that's no guarantee.
They simply, they can have a storm, you've got the gulf.
But the northeast, it's huge and there's a network of roads.
So if you really, really have to be in the path, you can base yourself in a place like Carbondale, as I probably will do.
Base myself here and then if the weather is bad, I may have to say to Bob go, or he may be following.
I think there's a whole new thing they may go, "Where's Mike?"
I may go north or south depending on the weather or just stay put hopefully.
And I'll have to do that and be here.
It has those challenges that are coming.
It's gonna be a tough one, at least in theory.
In theory it's tough, but it could just be a perfectly clear blue day and it just, we're ready for it, you know.
You really don't know what to expect.
I can't tell you how many times I've gone to overcast skies.
This is something I was explaining down in another committee meeting for planning groups.
Is that rain or shine, you must come, do not stay home.
"Oh, it's raining today, I'm not going," I can't tell you how many places around the world I've traveled to and the sky cleared up and a hole would open up in the sky and you'd see totality.
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in Africa, in Australia.
It was just, ugh, you know, like a clouds, oh my God, we're not gonna see it.
And then it cleared up and we saw it.
- Certainly and that is similar to the experience that Carbondale had if you were on campus, there was that cloud that cleared just in the nick of time as totality was ending.
- It, was bizarre.
I mean, 'cause the drama that came from that, that I'll never forget that in the stadium, the whole stadium's screaming, you know, for the cloud to move.
Chanting, move cloud, I think, move that cloud.
It was incredible.
But then 50 yards outside the stadium, you know, at the NASA EDGE and the CBS stage, they saw it like longer than we did in the stadium.
And we could hear that just eruption of a scream as it came across us the last like eight seconds or so.
That was just incredible.
But, you know, just kind of echoing what Mike said, I've held public astronomy observations on campus for around 20 years now, and I never cancel them.
People say, "When's the rain day?"
And I'm like, "Well, it's a lunar eclipse.
It's happening tonight."
You know, (everyone laughing) and it's just amazing.
The cloud cover forecast will come out and it'll say 50%.
People are like, wow, it's only 50/50.
And I'm like, it's not bad, you know, because 50% of the time you're gonna see it and the clouds move.
And so actually, you know, most places in the country, that's what you get.
And people who stay home and say, "Oh, it's cloudy right now," they usually miss out.
'Cause I've had very, very, very few observations over the year where we actually don't see anything for the duration of it.
- So perhaps I'm playing devil's advocate, perhaps I'm burying the lead as we like to say in journalism.
But as we come to the end of our talk here, why should people care about this?
Why is this such a big deal for it to happen at SIU twice?
So, we hear a lot in astronomy, like super moon terms or here comes a comet.
And then when you dig into it, it's like, "Well, it's just a bigger moon, you know.
Is that cool?"
Well, yeah, it's cool, but it's still just the moon.
This is different.
This is like, you know, when I tried to describe what I saw, the first one that I saw in Indonesia in 2016, I said it was like the birth of a universe.
If you wanna like dig into what is this like, 'cause you're not going to see the birth of a universe by the way, from here.
It's just, it's gonna be a little flesh.
But if you had a closer seat to it and you could actually see, like when you see the corona, you see the streamers coming out, you see the red prominences from the sun.
As you're looking at it, it's like, "Oh my gosh, there's so much there that I didn't know was there."
You see all the planets in the sky.
So you'll see Mercury, you'll see Venus in the middle of the day.
And then you'll see behaviors from people and animals that just kind of blow you away, basically.
Veteran reporters just crying, seeing it.
And so when you know the reactions, that human reaction to it, it's like, if you see that and you're like, "Eh, I don't know."
It's like, yeah, you should really experience this.
It's a once in a lifetime.
- So much talk about cross-discipline, scientific experimentation, this really covers all of it.
- Yeah, yeah.
What we're doing on campus, actually it's everything.
There's a lot of groups that are planning and just like, yeah, it's gonna happen and we'll kind of put together some low plans and do something small.
Now this is a big, big, big deal for this campus.
We started planning for 2017 in 2014 and it's an all in event, you know.
- If I can add.
It's what you are going to feel.
That's why you should be going and not missing the opportunity.
And you're so lucky that you live here in this community, that these events have been planned from the beginning of time that it's gonna happen here.
And it's happened once.
Don't think because it happened once and it's gonna happen again, they're just gonna keep happening.
They're going away after this for this local region.
So it's what you are going to feel seeing it.
No one's ever told me, "Oh yeah, I saw the eclipse, it was pretty good."
Now they'll say that with a part.
It was okay, you know, and a partial, yeah, I saw an eclipse no reaction because there's nothing to see in impartial.
You have to be in totality and see it, and see it with your own eyes and you will say, "Yeah, that was great."
- And you'll get that opportunity April 8th, 2024.
It's in the afternoon, roughly 2:00, 2:30, right?
You can get more information at eclipse.siu.edu and of course we'll highlight it here on InFocus.
Bob, Mike, thanks so much for joining us.
- Thank you.
- And you can find all of our episodes of InFocus online at wsiu.org and at our YouTube channel.
Until next time, I'm Jennifer Fuller.
Thanks for joining us.
(upbeat music) (soft upbeat music)