WKU gears up for total solar eclipse, cancels classes

Jamie Williams

On August 21, a total solar eclipse will occur in Kentucky and across the nation, and WKU’s Eclipse Committee is already making plans for the rare event.

“The Great American Eclipse” will be visible from Bowling Green from around 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, August 21. WKU will be hosting eclipse events for its students, faculty and staff as well as for K-12 students across Southern Kentucky.

“Charley Pride [director of Student Activities] is making sure this is the best beginning of semester party that WKU has ever seen,” said Richard Gelderman, who is a member of WKU’s Eclipse Committee.

The solar eclipse happens to land on what is scheduled to be the first day of classes for WKU’s fall semester. To allow all WKU students to witness the eclipse, all classes before 4 p.m. on that day will be canceled.

The totality of the eclipse is expected at 1:27 p.m., at which point Bowling Green will experience 48 seconds of totality.

To celebrate the event, the WKU Eclipse Committee is planning a party for students along with Student Activities. The party will take place on South Lawn and will include food, music and other festivities. Students, faculty and staff with a WKU ID will also receive a free pair of solar viewer glasses, which allows the user to look at the sun safely during the partial phases of the eclipse.

Jeff Younglove, co-chair of WKU’s Eclipse Committee, said campus would also be hosting K-12 students from areas of the state that will not experience totality during the eclipse. These students will be gathered in the football stadium and will do various science activities during the partial phases of the eclipse until it is time for totality.

Younglove said there would also be a paid VIP event for individuals who want a special experience.

Younglove and Gelderman estimate approximately 10,000 to 20,000 WKU students, faculty and staff will view the event on campus along with around 10,000 K-12 students.

WKU’s Eclipse Committee has been planning events for the past two years, and are now in its final stages leading up to the event. Younglove said that by the end of May, things would be in good shape and more event announcements will be officially made.

The Hardin Planetarium also has plans leading up to the eclipse, including two new shows. “Into the Shadow of the Disappearing Sun” will run from May 2 to July 2, with shows every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. and every Sunday at 2 p.m.

The show, which is free to the public, talks about the importance of the eclipse and how it occurs. The show also informs the audience how and where to best view the eclipse.

According to Celeste Holliman, one of the planetarium’s presenters, a total solar eclipse like the one in August has not happened in  Kentucky since 1869 and has not occurred in Bowling Green since the 1400s.

Gelderman said he hopes everyone takes advantage of this rare event to witness what will likely be their first total eclipse. Gelderman, who has worked in astronomy for 40 years, only saw his first total solar eclipse in Indonesia last year. He said it was indescribable to someone who hasn’t seen it themselves.

“No matter what you’ve heard, no matter who you’ve talked to…nothing that I will tell you, nothing that anyone will have ever shown you will prepare you for how incredibly beautiful it is,” Gelderman said.

Gelderman added that even if you don’t know anything about astronomy, you can still appreciate the solar eclipse. He also said he hopes everyone who gets to view the eclipse realizes just how special it is.

“It’s not a science thing; it is a human thing,” Gelderman said.

Reporter Jamie Williams can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]