What’s Special about this Solar Eclipse? A Conversation with Kaitlin Moore

Today, we are sharing a conversation previously aired on “Central Time” on Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR). hosted by Rob Ferrett and produced by Colleen Leahy. In this conversation, Rob speaks with Kaitlin Moore, Director of Communications for the UW-Madison Department of English and acclaimed amateur astrophotographer, about the mechanisms behind solar eclipses and the reason why the eclipse on April 8, 2024 is so highly anticipated. In Kaitlin’s words, a total eclipse is a “night in microcosm” that has the potential to change earthly ecologies.

Stream or download our conversation here

Interview Highlights

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rob Ferrett: Thanks a lot for joining us today! Remind us what a solar eclipse is.

A full solar eclipse is night in microcosm.

Kaitlin Moore: So a solar eclipse in short is actually quite simple in terms of its mechanics, but its actual occurrence is very, very rare. It’s when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, and the eclipse occurs when the moon’s shadow is cast onto the surface of the earth.

RF: Is it common for the same place to get a couple shots at it in a relatively short period of time?

KM: No, we’ve been very, very lucky, and the one this year is going to be even more spectacular than the one in 2017 for a couple of reasons. Part of it is the sun is actually entering what’s known as its solar maximum period, whereas back in 2017, it was entering its solar minimum period.

RF: One of our callers talked about seeing crescents on the ground during an eclipse. Can you talk about this weird optical thing?

KM: Certainly. Those are really, really cool. There’s actually a good chance of that happening again this year because the percentage totality that this area of Wisconsin is going to experience is around about high 80% to low 90% of totality. So when you look at those shadows that are cast, they’re going to appear as crescent-shaped mostly because that’s how much of the sun is actually casting the shadow at that point.

crescent-shaped lights are cast on the ground
Crescent-shaped lights on the ground during a solar eclipse. Photo by theilr, 2023.

RF: I talked to a guest who said something like the difference between the full and the partial is like seeing the Super Bowl during the game and visiting the stadium the next morning.

KM: Right. It’s … it’s a pretty big difference. The thing that’s really remarkable about a full solar eclipse is that it’s night in microcosm. Crickets will start to chirp. You’ll see the stars in the sky. Birds will go quiet. Your pets might behave a bit strangely.

This year, because the sun is entering its period of solar maximum, which means its coronal activity is going to be very, very active. So during the totality, when the sun is completely covered, you’ll be able to see the outer atmosphere of the sun—what’s known as the corona. It’s this beautiful hazy sort of pearlescent white that surrounds the dark disc of the moon.

It’s going to be absolutely extraordinary.

Featured image: Solar Eclipse. Photo by George Terezakis, 2005.

Podcast music: “Gloves” by Julian Lynch. Used with permission.

Rob Ferrett is the host and producer of “Central Time” on WPR. Rob has been all over The Ideas Network. He joined “The Tom Clark Show” as a producer in 1999, and went on to produce “Zorba Paster on Your Health” and “The Joy Cardin Show.”

Kaitlin Moore is the Director of Communications for the UW Madison Department of English and acclaimed amateur astro photographer. Kaitlin’s work has been featured in livescience.com and the Overture Center for the Arts and it’s on permanent display at several laboratories across campus. Kaitlin has also published an essay about photographing stars on Edge Effects.

Edge Effects is sharing this interview with permission from WPR. You may find the original segment of “Central Time” via this link.