Hinsdale gets ready for the solar eclipse

Next week's arrival of rare cosmic event generates curiosity, excitement among residents

So have you heard about the solar eclipse happening on Monday?

The answer is likely yes, given the level of attention it is commanding. And rightfully so, as the moon's shadow will sweep from Texas to Maine on April 8 in an event not to happen again in the U.S. until 2044. And the Chicago area lies in close proximity to the "path of totality," prompting many to trek to southern Illinois or neighboring Indiana to experience it.

Alan McCloud, Hinsdale Central earth science teacher, said the eclipse will take about two and a half hours from start to finish, or from around 12:50 to 3:20 p.m. locally, and be at its max at about 2:08 p.m.

"It happens as the moon gradually passes in front of the sun, and as they are about the same size in the sky from our perspective," McCloud explained, noting the sun is 400 times larger than the moon but 400 times farther away. "The moon nearly perfectly fits over the sun when everything lines up correctly."

Hinsdale won't go dusk-like as in regions within the path of totality, but with an estimated 94-percent sun coverage, "the sky will darken gradually until the middle of the eclipse, then gradually lighten," he said.

Even with just a sliver of sun showing, eclipse watchers will need special glasses for protection.

"That amount of direct sunlight from the surface of the sun is still enough to do permanent damage to one's eyes," McCloud cautioned, suggesting a pinhole camera as an alternative.

The Hinsdale Public Library has been giving away solar filter eclipse glasses over the last few weeks, one per household, to library cardholders who register. The library has also partnered with the District 181 Foundation to provide glasses for students in grades three through eight so they can safely participate.

On Tuesday, Susan McBride, adult services programming coordinator, said a large number of the glasses are still available for residents. After picking up a pair, they're invited to bring them to the library's watch party on Monday (see sidebar for details).

"We'll have moon pies, cosmic Oreos and the NASA livefeed on the TV," McBride said.

The party will move outside to the Memorial Hall patio around 1:45 p.m., hopefully under clear skies.

Hinsdale's Stephanie Rens-Domiano will be helping with an eclipse-related research project that actually starts Saturday. The University of Illinois Extension Program Master Naturalist will take sound samples in her backyard during the eclipse as well as for two days on either side to record animal eclipse behavior.

"I use the AudioMoth device, which is basically a little sound recorder," she said of the Eclipse Soundscapes NASA Citizen Science effort. "We measure the difference in birds and bugs, like crickets, to see if sounds that usually come out at night come out in the middle of the day."

Rens-Domiano said she remembers such a phenomenon during the last solar eclipse in 2017. The recordings will then be sent to NASA to add to a trove of data that dates back at least 100 years.

"It's an open-source kind of thing. It helps any scientists who have some research project that's related to the eclipse. They're getting a lot more data from this," she said.

The absence of extraneous noise is her biggest wish.

"I'm just going to cross my fingers that the landscapers don't come next door," Rens-Domiano quipped.

McCloud said he's been preparing his students all year for the eclipse.

"My afternoon classes will go out a couple of times each period to observe the progress of the eclipse," he said of Monday's plan.

He referred people to http://www.eclipse2024.org/mapviewer/index1.html?map=Chicago to track the moon as it moves in front of the sun.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean