It's lights out in the city, for the Year of the Eclipse is upon us. In August, Chicagoans will witness one of the rarest natural phenomena: a solar eclipse. Technically the city will experience 90 percent of a total solar eclipse, and that’s still pretty amazing. The last time Chicago was this close to the path of totality (sciencespeak for “total blackout”) was in 1925, and you can bet your vanishing stars that people are getting excited this time around.
“You can prepare for it, you can study it, you can see photographs or movies, but when you’re actually in the eclipse, it’s kind of an eerie, primal feeling,” says Larry Ciupik, director of the Adler Planetarium’s Doane Observatory. “It’s a feeling of awe, but it also looks like a black hole in the sky. So I could see how people could be afraid of that.”
Aside from feeling a little strange or having a bird land on your head (animals have been known to act squirrelly during eclipses), Ciupik says there’s nothing to fear. On the contrary, a solar eclipse is so rare that even witnessing 90 percent of one is cause for celebration; cue the Adler Planetarium.
Three viewing parties are planned for the eclipse, which begins at 11:54am on August 21. Adler invites visitors to its main viewing party at the museum, where guests can participate in eclipse-related activities, chat with astronomers and snag a free pair of solar-eclipse–viewing glasses. About 10,000 people are expected to attend, with the museum hosting viewing parties at two other Chicago locations: Daley Plaza (50 W Washington St) and a third site to be determined.
Additional events will be hosted by Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Public Library, Sea Dog Cruises and Wonder Works Children’s Museums. We wouldn’t be surprised if restaurants and bars got in on the action too, so stay tuned for updates.
Anyone looking to catch the eclipse can head to Carbondale, Illinois, the closest city to Chicago that’s in the path of totality. If you make the trip, you won’t need those viewing glasses (at least not while the moon covers the sun). While the eclipse is close to total, you can look at it directly for a few moments without damaging your eyes. (If you’re watching from home, google “how to make a pinhole projector.”)
If you’re already giddy with anticipation, swing by the Adler Planetarium now through January 2018 for the “Chasing Eclipses” exhibit (1300 S Lake Shore Dr; 312-922-7827, adlerplanetarium.org). You’ll learn the science and history of these rare celestial occurrences and get a sense of how mankind’s understanding of them has evolved from abject horror to heavenly fascination.
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