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U of L’s total solar eclipse class will explore historical, cultural impact of the phenomenon

A total solar eclipse, which appears as a black circled ringed by light against a black sky
The total solar eclipse in April 2024 will be partly visible from Louisville, and Indiana is already readying for eclipse tourists.

A total eclipse of the sun will be visible from sites near Louisville on April 8, 2024. A University of Louisville course, open to anyone, starts in January and will teach about this phenomenon.

It’s not often the sun disappears in the middle of the day, says Gerard Williger. He’s a professor at U of L’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and is offering a 15-class course that starts Jan. 8.

A total eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking sunlight and darkening the sky.

On April 8, several sites within driving distance of Louisville will offer some visibility.. In Indiana, the city of Seymour is offering five free viewing sites, while Bloomington and Indianapolis have events planned and are readying for eclipse tourists. The Kentucky Science Center is organizing a trip to Evansville. Paducah is also in the path of totality.

“We've been seeing eclipses for 5,000 years, as recorded by stone carvings, petroglyphs, and eclipses have impacted us because there is a visceral feeling for an eclipse, Williger said, explaining that the experience is more than visual.

“The temperature drops, the wind dies down, birds go quiet, insects go quiet, dogs bark,” he said.

Williger’s course, called “Special Topics: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024,” is about more than the science of total solar eclipses. He’s also exploring the events’ impact on folklore, literature and even film.

The course will touch on the work of Homer, Shakespeare or Stephen King or ancient Greek myths and Renaissance paintings, Williger said.

Williger also researched films that feature solar eclipses.

“There’s a Bing Crosby film, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court’… ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’” he said, adding that many of the movies depicted eclipses incorrectly.

The next time a total solar eclipse will occur this close to Louisville will be in on Oct. 17, 2153. Wiliger hopes people will travel, if needed, to view the eclipse in April, because he said the event is a tradition throughout history.

“Now we know what they are, they’re very interesting, they’re natural things happening, and we can feel that we're part of the cosmos, that we're on a small planet,” he said.

The course includes 15 classes and it’s open to anyone from school-age students to senior citizens. It begins Jan. 8 and ends April 15.

More details on enrolling and fee structure can be found here.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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