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  • Writer's pictureAlex Martin

Witnessing cosmic geometry over Batesville, Indiana

by Alex Martin, Executive Director

April 14, 2024



There is no stopping Totality. If we want to experience it, then we must chase it.


Batesville, Indiana, is a town of 7,800 people off of I-74 halfway between Cincinnati and Indianapolis. I'd never heard about it until January 2024, shortly after my friend in Bloomington wanted to know if SSC might be interested in working with her library to hold an eclipse event, which was deciding whether to stay open that day. While her library later opted to close, traveling to Indiana was now top of mind.


Not long after, we created a flyer with information and a map of the eclipse path, and shared it on a Facebook group dedicated to Eclipse 2024. We received a flurry of likes and shares, including a message on our Facebook page from someone requesting a PDF copy to share around, who said her town was in the path of Totality. I happily obliged, struck up a conversation, and learned she was a librarian in Batesville, Indiana. A quick bout of research showed me Batesville was only 84 miles from Bloomington.


In 15-hour road trip terms: right next door.


Through some quick back-and-forth and a Zoom call, I told her our story, she told us about the Batesville Blackout Bash, and upon learning that the festival would have no telescopes joining, I offered our services. By the end of February, it was set: Sidewalk Science Center was traveling to Batesville, Indiana for Eclipse 2024.


In the following weeks, we learned a bit about this small town in southeastern Indiana:


  • People we met at SSC enthusiastically told us about the casket and hospital bed factories, the largest in the country.

  • We collaborated with Emili Uden, the Director of Batesville's Kids Discovery Factory, which brings STEAM activities to schools and families via their mobile museum and in-house activity rooms to 40,000 children every year.

  • There was the Sherman Inn, a historic hotel in the small downtown region that's 170 years old and played host to travelers bound west at its height, and now acts as a local landmark and town jewel (that you can, of course, still stay in)

  • Lil Charlie's Restaurant and Brewery, where we ended up having dinner April 7th, was a delightful pub-style restaurant (with fish & chips that really hit the spot). After returning, we met a couple at a Block Party in LWR who were from Batesville (and were, I suppose now literally, "over the Moon" that we traveled to Batesville. They said their second date was at Lil Charlie's!)



Batesville is by no means a large town when compared with the endless urban sprawl in here in Florida. It's a classic, self-contained town, maybe two miles from one side to the other. Where we set up at Bill Gillespie Soccer Complex, to Kids Discovery Factory, was a mere half-mile, and you covered most of the downtown area in that distance. When you leave, you have to drive miles either direction to pass another town. Indianapolis is an hour in one direction, and Cincinnati is 45 minutes in the other. Heading west toward Bloomington, you drive through two state parks, where roadside campgrounds housed hundreds of RVs. Post-eclipse, a gas station clerk welcoming drivers making their inter-city gas stops told us he went outside during Totality, and with the help of the mountains on either side blocking out the sunset effect, said the valley went pitch black.



On festival day, Kaya and I set up the telescopes and, with the help of my friend in Bloomington, gave people views of the Sun through our solar filters. The festival itself was on April 7th, so there was no Moon to be seen, but the sight of our star still wowed. Our solar system display and telescopes saw hundreds of people come through. Many people had heard about us, and saw our car in the parking lot. In true fashion, I of course decked-out my car with art announcing the Florida-to-Indiana "Totality or BUST" road trip. That was, by all measures, a conversation starter.



As you read in my previous blog post, I witnessed Eclipse 2017 in Salem, Oregon with my friend and her grandparents, aunt, and cousins. In the years following, witnessing rocket launches among thousands of people, and creating SSC and sharing experiences with groups of people, I knew that this time, I wanted to experience Totality with a crowd, sharing the emotion, the celebration, the awe and wonder. We could easily have gone to Indianapolis, or Dallas, or Cleveland, or any number of big-city events.


Batesville, while smaller on the map, became a staging ground for travelers. The city's website saw a 450% increase in traffic, and the Batesville Chamber of Commerce Facebook page generated more than 10,000 views, all in the month leading up to the eclipse. We met people from Seattle; from Virginia; from North Carolina; from Idaho; from Florida; from California; from Ohio. Mayor John Irrgang and his office, as well as members of the Batesville Chamber of Commerce, personally welcomed us to their city. Members of the Batesville Memorial Public Library built a pop-up planetarium under their booth tent for festival-goers to explore some part of the cosmos.


We exchanged stories with people who have witnessed eclipses all over the world, and were eager to share this moment in Earth's cosmic history with a new generation. I was personally inspired by Caroline Karbowski, a graduate of Ohio State University who founded the company See3D and has dedicated herself to creating inclusive experiences for the blind and vision impaired using braille and 3D printed models. An app she was using played different tones and sounds during stages of partiality and totality, making the visual portion of the experience accessible in a whole new way. She stationed her own 5-inch Dobsonian near our setup and provided even more views on her own. Here's her own video during Totality.


The people we met made this eclipse every bit as enjoyable and memorable as we ever could have hoped. SSC is so proud to have provided our telescopes to give unforgettable views of the solar eclipse, but we're also so lucky to have been welcomed by locals and travelers alike.



On eclipse day, all eyes went to the sky. The thousands of people who came to town gazed skyward. Lines stretched back from each of our telescopes, with some people circling back again and again to get a new view in each as the Moon paraded across the yellow disk of the Sun. Early on, the same solar prominence that everyone witnessed jetting outward during Totality was easily seen through our Hydrogen-Alpha scope, giving the Sun a deep red hue compared to the bright orange and yellow of our other filters.



The near-perfect sky stayed mostly cloudless, with only wisps and thin high altitude cirrus clouds streaming across at any given time.


Dozens of people tested out holding the strainer away from a whiteboard to see the crescent projections of light pouring through the holes. Hats with holes produced crescents on people's shoulders, and the few bushes around the soccer complex had a splattering of crescents wherever sunlight passed through their leaves and gaps.



At Totality, the view of the golden 360 sunset surrounded the soccer fields. The sky darkened to a brown-blue, the black hole of the Moon gleaming with a silvery ring and the coronal ghost stretching like a pointed crown from that black circle punched into the sky. A series of pink solar prominences pierced the rim, lending to the majestic spectacle.


It was perhaps the fastest three minutes of our lives. Running around making sure people got to use our 8-inch Dobsonian to view Totality, capturing the sounds, the sights, the cheers, the breathtaking display playing out before all of us gathered there. The brightening glow on the southwestern horizon as the back end of the shadow slid our way, Totality ticking down on our stopwatches.



In what seemed like an instant, darkness released its hold, and the sky grew bright. Venus and Jupiter vanished, the coronal ghost flickered out, the pink prominences drew back into the glare of the Sun, the final diamond ring burst forth...and daylight retook the sky. Just as quickly as Totality arrived, it ended, and the partial eclipse receded for the next hour and fourteen minutes.



Batesville provided a wonderful backdrop for the final Total Solar Eclipse to cross the United States until August 12, 2045. A welcoming atmosphere, the hype of celestial wonder, and a meeting ground for people around the country. We're excited to see how the Kids Discovery Factory grows in the coming years as Emili and her team continue to bring science education and experiences to students throughout the region. We're so thankful to the mayor's office and the Batesville Memorial Public Library for welcoming us to add to the festivities. It's a town to visit again, and one with which we will have a connection forever.


Astronomer Kaya Lewis (left) and Executive Director Alex Martin (right)

 

Alex Martin is the Executive Director of Sidewalk Science Center. He founded Sidewalk Science Center back in July 2018. Learn more about him here. 


 

Sidewalk Science Center's mission is to provide regular and reliable access to educational tools and resources in public spaces. Articles like this help us to create avenues for interest and engagement in scientific discourse, and we are dedicated to contributing accurate and reliable information from sources directly involved in the information we present.


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