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Joliet Junior College’s Public Viewing Event for the October 14, 2023 Solar Eclipse

Planning viewing of the October 14, 2023 partial solar eclipse and coping with inclement weather on the eclipse day.

Published onMar 08, 2024
Joliet Junior College’s Public Viewing Event for the October 14, 2023 Solar Eclipse


Joliet Junior College, a community college in Joliet, IL, celebrated the October 14, 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse by hosting free public viewing even though the eclipse was partial from Joliet. On this day, the Sun’s disk was 44.3% occluded by the Moon at maximum eclipse. I organized the viewing event for the October 2023 eclipse with the help of several faculty members, staff and students. Unfortunately, we could not see the eclipse due to thick clouds and occasional rain. However, around 80 people attended the event and were shown NASA’s live feed of the eclipse, and a short show on eclipses and the Sun in the college’s Trackman planetarium (the show was added because of the inclement weather). Free custom eclipse viewers were also given to attendees. I am now planning a similar public event for the April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse with faculty members and staff who helped organize the 2023 event, even though Joliet will not experience totality. The Sun will be 94.2% occluded by the Moon at maximum eclipse from Joliet. Student volunteers will be recruited about a month before the event. In this article, I describe how we prepared for the 2023 event, and the plans for the 2024 event. Many of the preparations are the same as those used to successfully host viewing of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse at the college. I end the article with tips on how to successfully organize a public solar eclipse viewing event based on my experience so far.

1. Introduction

Most of North and Central America will experience two solar eclipses between October 2023 and April 2024. The first of these eclipses occurred on October 14, 2023 and the second one will take place on April 8, 2024. Having two eclipses occur in the same geographic region with a little less than six months separating them is special, because solar eclipses usually do not occur so frequently in the same area. The previous solar eclipse in North America occurred on August 21, 2017, over six years before the October 14, 2023 one.

Joliet Junior College (JJC), a community college in Joliet, IL, is celebrating the 2023 and 2024 solar eclipses by hosting free public viewing of both. Through these events, the public can be engaged with the eclipses. The October 14, 2023 solar eclipse was partial from Joliet, IL with the Sun 44.3% obscured by the Moon (U.S. Naval Observatory [USNO], n.d.-a). Elsewhere, in a 125-mile-wide path from California to Texas, Mexico and northern South America, the eclipse caused the Sun to look like a “ring of fire” because the Moon could not completely cover the Sun (American Astronomical Society [AAS], n.d.-a). Such an eclipse is an annular solar eclipse. Annularity lasted up to 5 minutes in October 2023 (AAS, n.d.-a). The April 8, 2024 solar eclipse will be a deep partial eclipse from Joliet, IL. The Moon will occlude 94.2% of the Sun that day (USNO, n.d.-b). However, parts of western and north-eastern Mexico, parts of the southern and midwestern US, and eastern Canada will experience a total solar eclipse in a path that is 115 miles wide, with totality lasting up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds (AAS, n.d.-b).

The last solar eclipse seen from Joliet was on August 21, 2017, when the Moon obscured 88.4% of the Sun (USNO, n.d.-c). I had organized successful public viewing for that deep partial solar eclipse with the help of several faculty, staff, and students (Dcruz, 2019). Around 1500 people attended that event, even though the sky was mostly cloudy during the eclipse. Every so often the clouds would thin, allowing us to safely see the Sun. The best part of the 2017 eclipse was that the clouds happened to thin sufficiently at maximum eclipse, and everyone applauded. After maximum eclipse, the clouds dissipated, though haziness persisted.

A few pictures from the 2017 event are shown below:

People collecting viewers and other handouts at solar eclipse event.
Figure 1

Volunteers distributing eclipse viewers, safe solar viewing information and planetarium brochures to attendees at the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse event. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

People using eclipse viewers to see the 2017 solar eclipse.
Figure 2

People using custom JJC eclipse viewers to see the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

A picture of the crowd at the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse viewing event.
Figure 3

A picture of the crowd at the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse viewing event. A pop-up tent (with blue roof, left of center) was set up to protect the solar equipment in case of light rain. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

On October 14, 2023, thick clouds and occasional rain prevented us from witnessing the eclipse. This was extremely disappointing. Nonetheless, around 80 people came to the college for the event. They were shown NASA’s live stream of the annular solar eclipse and a short planetarium show on eclipses and the Sun at the college’s Herbert Trackman planetarium.

Astronomy teaching and outreach activities have been occurring at JJC for several decades. The college is the nation’s first community college, located about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, IL. JJC offers two astronomy courses: Descriptive Astronomy, which is a semester-long survey of astronomy, and Life in the Universe. Both are lecture-only, general education courses aimed at non-science major students. JJC does not offer Bachelor’s degrees, but students can transfer their grades in these two courses to Bachelor’s granting institutions as the courses count towards a Bachelor’s degree. (I teach both courses every semester, as I am an astronomy professor at JJC.) The college’s Trackman planetarium features a 30-foot diameter dome with a Digitarium system, a digital planetarium projection system from Digitalis Education Solutions, Inc. (Some components from the previous Omnistar digital system continue to be used with the Digitarium projector, the Digitalis computer and Nightshade software). Both astronomy courses are taught in the planetarium. Free planetarium shows are offered to the public and can be scheduled for private groups. Planetarium shows have been offered to the public since 1973 (Sterling, 2001) and astronomy courses have been taught at the college since the 1970s (M. Wolff, personal communication, January 13, 2024).

In this article, I describe the reasons for holding a public event (Section 2); how we planned the public event for the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse (Section 3); the modifications made to the plans due to the inclement weather and how the eclipse day turned out (Section 4); and the preparations for a public event to safely see the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse (Section 5). I have summarized my recommendations on how to successfully organize similar events in the conclusion (Section 6) for the benefit of those planning public solar eclipse viewing in the future.

2. Motivation for holding a public event

Solar eclipses provide the opportunity for people to experience a unique daytime astronomical event for themselves, weather permitting. But they do not occur frequently in the same geographic location. As mentioned above, Joliet, IL is fortunate to be experiencing partial solar eclipses on October 14, 2023 and April 8, 2024. Because of this, I felt it would be worthwhile to organize free public viewing of both eclipses so that as many people as possible could enjoy viewing them safely. These events would be similar to the one held for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse (Dcruz, 2019). At that event my team had distributed free custom eclipse viewers (see Figure 2 above) to attendees so everyone could safely and easily view the eclipse. We planned to do the same in 2023 and 2024. For those who preferred to view the Sun indirectly by looking at its projected image, we had Sunspotter telescopes and a Sun Funnel on an 8-inch reflecting telescope available in 2017. We planned to have these available again in 2023 and 2024.

Besides the enjoyment and pleasure associated with viewing a solar eclipse, there are a variety of astronomical concepts that can be discussed. For example, the angular size of an object versus its physical size, and the fact that an object’s angular size decreases with increasing distance from the observer. Angular sizes of the Moon and Sun can help explain why the Moon can completely cover the Sun during a total solar eclipse though the Moon’s physical diameter is about 400 times smaller than the Sun’s. The Moon’s angular size during the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse was smaller the Sun’s. Therefore, the Moon was unable to completely cover the Sun, resulting in an annular solar eclipse. The outer parts of the Sun were visible as a ring (or annulus) around the Moon at maximum eclipse and close to it. In comparison, the Moon was closer to Earth on August 21, 2017. This made its angular size large enough that it could completely cover the Sun, resulting in a total solar eclipse for observers in the Moon’s umbral shadow. During the April 8, 2024 eclipse, the Moon will be a bit closer to Earth than in 2017. The larger angular size of the Moon on April 8, 2024 will cause totality to last up to 4 minutes 28 seconds in 2024 (AAS, n.d.-b; Espenak, n.d.) versus up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds on August 21, 2017 (USNO, n.d.-d).

Astronomical concepts related to eclipses that can be discussed are listed in a poster that I presented at the American Astronomical Society’s solar eclipse planning workshop in April 2022 (Dcruz, 2022a). This list was not intended to be a complete list, but a starting point for relevant concepts.

3. Preparing for the October 14, 2023 Solar Eclipse

The experience gained from planning the hugely successful public viewing event for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse (Dcruz, 2019) served as the basis for planning the October 14, 2023 public event. To update the 2017 preparations as needed, I attended the following three virtual events that were geared towards planning for both the October 2023 and April 2024 solar eclipses:

  1. a Solar Eclipse Planning Workshop, held on April 8-9, 2022, organized by the AAS;

  2. the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s 2023 Annual Conference titled “Exploring the Art, Culture and Science of Solar Eclipses,” held on August 18, 2023; and

  3. an hour-long workshop titled “Exploring the Upcoming Solar Eclipse: Inspiring investigations that go beyond the usual classroom activities,” by Richard Gelderman (Western Kentucky University) and David Cuomo (Digitalis Education Solutions, Inc.) held on September 26, 2023. This workshop was part of the VIDEO AAPT Education series, and was organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers in collaboration with Physics Today and Digitalis Education Solutions, Inc.

At the AAS workshop in 2022, in addition to learning how to plan for the 2023 and 2024 eclipses, I shared my experiences of solar observing and planning solar eclipse viewing via two posters: (i) “How to view the sun safely” (Dcruz, 2022b) and (ii) “A few tips for hosting solar eclipse viewing for the public” (Dcruz, 2022c). As mentioned in Section 2 above, I also presented a third poster at the workshop listing various astronomical and physical concepts that are related to eclipses, though the list was not meant to be exhaustive.

At the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2023, I presented a poster on JJC’s preliminary plans for public viewing of both the 2023 and 2024 solar eclipses (Dcruz, 2023). The poster is available here. At this meeting, I learned about the LightSound device from astronomer Allyson Bieryla (Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory), whose poster on using this device to sonify solar eclipses happened to be next to mine (Bieryla & Hyman, 2023). Bieryla and her team developed the LightSound device to enable the blind and low vision community experience solar eclipses. The device converts the changing intensity of sunlight during an eclipse to different musical tones. Details of how the LightSound device was incorporated into JJC’s event are described towards the end of this section.

The rest of this section provides details of JJC’s 2023 solar eclipse preparations and is divided into preparations done more than 8 weeks before the eclipse (sub-section 3.1) and preparations done in the 8 weeks before the eclipse (sub-section 3.2).

3.1 Preparations carried out more than 8 weeks before the eclipse

The organizers of the 2022 AAS workshop recommended to start planning as early as two years before the April 8, 2024 eclipse. They predicted that many people and organizations would be ordering eclipse viewers and glasses because the path of totality passed through numerous urban and suburban areas. It takes at least a few months for these to be made, with this time period increasing as more orders are placed simultaneously. To ensure that viewers and glasses arrived in time for the April 2024 eclipse, they advised ordering them as early as two years ahead of time, which is much earlier than for the August 2017 solar eclipse.

At JJC, planning started in mid- to late February 2023. The first step was to pick a location from which to view the eclipse. Since the 2023 eclipse would occur from 10:36am to 1:23pm, with maximum eclipse at 11:57am, we needed to have a good view of the eastern and southern sky.

The grass in front of JJC’s Event Center (located at the college’s Main Campus), has a good view of the eastern and southern sky, and was chosen as a suitable location from which to view the 2023 eclipse. Ideally, I should have viewed the Sun traveling in the sky on October 14, 2022 or on February 26, 2023 from around 10:30am to 1:30pm at this location to determine its suitability since this is the path the Sun would execute on October 14, 2023. We had used this location for the August 2017 eclipse and were happy to use it again since it had worked out well in 2017. (A grassy surface is preferred for solar viewing compared to concrete or asphalt since it tends not to heat up as much as concrete or asphalt, and therefore less turbulence develops in the air right above it to affect viewing the Sun.) The college’s Campus Police kindly gave us permission to use this outdoor space for the eclipse event. They also said they would monitor crowds and parking on the day of the event because there was a volleyball tournament occurring in the Event Center at the same time as the eclipse event.

The proximity of the Event Center to the eclipse viewing location would benefit the event in many ways. NASA’s live feed of the annular solar eclipse could be shown in one of the Event Center’s large rooms to complement the partial solar eclipse we would see from Joliet. The live feed would also serve as a back-up in case of inclement weather. Attendees could spend time inside the Event Center to cool off or warm up depending on the temperature outside, they could purchase snacks and beverages from the Center’s concession stand (or bring their own food) and use the Center’s bathrooms.

Andrew Morrison (a physics and astronomy professor), Caitlin Lee (the planetarium outreach coordinator), Geoffrey White (the physics and chemistry lab supervisor) and I met in late February 2023 to work on some details that needed early attention. We decided that we would distribute custom eclipse viewers, not glasses, to attendees for free, like we had in 2017. Viewers are easier to put in front of the eyes and to remove compared to eclipse glasses. Since the solar filters used in viewers and glasses decrease the Sun’s brightness a lot, having the ability to easily remove the solar filter from the eyes to see around you is desirable. This is why viewers were our preferred choice. To keep the cost per viewer as low as possible, we decided to have one design for both eclipses and to order 3000 viewers. The college’s marketing team produced a suitable design in early July 2023. Rainbow Symphony made our custom viewers, like in 2017. It took about eight weeks for them to be produced. They arrived in early September 2023, much before eclipse day! It was definitely worth starting preparations in February, as starting this early kept us from worrying about whether or not our viewers would be ready for the eclipse.

To ensure that the viewers were used appropriately by attendees, I made copies of the safe viewing guide from the American Astronomical Society’s eclipse website to distribute to them. These were available in English and Spanish, and I copied both versions. To reduce the need to have large numbers of paper copies of both guides, I made flyers that contained QR codes leading to the webpages of guides (The QR Code Generator website was used to generate all the QR codes used at the event). If an attendee wanted an electronic version, they could easily get it by scanning the QR code for the English or Spanish version using a QR code reader app on their smartphone or tablet. I had the flyers mounted on poster board so they could be easily displayed on a table, and taped to the table if it was windy outside. (The college’s Print Services created high quality prints of all mounted flyers used in the event; the college’s Media Services mounted them securely on black poster board.) Volunteers could also demonstrate how to use the viewers.

In 2017, the college’s eclipse event lasted for the entire duration of the eclipse. There was considerable cloudiness before maximum eclipse, with the clouds thinning from time to time, and at maximum eclipse. After maximum eclipse the clouds rapidly disappeared, though the conditions remained hazy. Over time the haziness decreased. Most of the crowd left soon after maximum eclipse despite the improving weather conditions. Because of this experience, we decided to hold the 2023 event from 10:15am to 12:45pm. However, we planned to stay till the eclipse ended at 1:23pm if any attendees expressed an interest in viewing the Sun beyond 12:45pm.

We also decided that the solar equipment we used during the 2017 eclipse would be sufficient to use during the 2023 and 2024 eclipses. The equipment consists of:

  1. three Sunspotters to project the Sun’s image,

  2. a 4-inch Meade ETX-125 reflector with a solar filter to view the Sun directly,

  3. an 8-inch Orion reflector with a Sun Funnel (made by White for the 2017 solar eclipse using instructions from an earlier version of Fienberg, et al. (2023)) to view the Sun’s projected image, and

  4. a Coronado Solarmax60 containing a permanently mounted H-alpha filter to directly view the Sun’s chromosphere, prominences, filaments, plages and sunspots. This telescope is used with a Meade DS-2000 mount and tripod.

The 8-inch telescope needs to be protected from overheating as its large aperture lets in a lot of sunlight. A removable cover made from a piece of poster board that has a 2-inch or 4-inch circular hole in it needs to be placed over the mouth of the tube to reduce the amount of sunlight that enters the telescope. The covers I had made for this telescope in 2017 were still in good shape and could be used in 2023.

To minimize the chance of COVID-19 or any other infections spreading via contaminated eyepieces, White planned to sanitize the eyepieces of both telescopes with ethanol dampened lens wipes after each individual looked through them. Since Fall 2022, he has been sanitizing the Coronado eyepiece with ethanol dampened lens wipes when showing the Sun to my Descriptive Astronomy and Life in the Universe students.

In 2017, we made pinhole projection templates and purchased white foam boards on which to project the Sun’s image through the pinholes. These were still available to use in 2023. To use pinhole projection, one stands with one’s back facing the Sun so sunlight can travel through a pinhole in stiff paper and produce the Sun’s image on a white foam board placed below the pinhole (or on the ground) (AAS, n.d.-c; Dcruz, 2022b).

When using telescopes to view the Sun or to project the Sun’s image in 2017, we had trained volunteers tending to the instruments at all times. This way they could make sure the solar filter and the Sun Funnel were always securely placed on the 4-inch and 8-inch telescopes respectively. It is important to never leave solar equipment unattended, and we planned to make sure to always have trained volunteers take care of the equipment in 2023 too.

The pictures below show some of the solar equipment mentioned above in use during the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse.

Projecting the sun's image using a Sunspotter telescope during the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse.
Figure 4

A student volunteer projecting the Sun's image using a Sunspotter telescope at the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse event. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

Viewing the sun through a 4-inch Meade reflector telescope equipped with a solar filter.
Figure 5

Physics and astronomy faculty member, Andrew Morrison, (in purple T-shirt) supervising viewing of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse through a 4-inch Meade reflector telescope equipped with a solar filter. Others eagerly await their turn to look through the telescope. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

Viewing the sun in projection, using a sun funnel on an 8-inch Orion reflector.
Figure 6

Physics and chemistry lab supervisor, Geoffrey White, (in purple T-shirt), and members of the public viewing the Sun in projection, during the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, using a Sun Funnel on an 8-inch Orion reflector. This telescope usually has a removable cover with a 2-inch or 4-inch diameter circular aperture placed on it, when projecting the Sun with the Sun Funnel, to protect it from overheating. Due to the hazy conditions, the Sun’s intensity was lower than usual and so no cover was being used at the time the photograph was taken. (Credit: N. Dcruz)

3.2 Preparations carried out in the 8 weeks before the eclipse

The rest of the planning and preparation was done during the Fall 2023 semester. The main tasks involved:

  • recruiting volunteers to help on the day of the event;

  • training volunteers to operate some of the solar equipment;

  • making T-shirts for the volunteers to wear so they could be easily identified;

  • promoting the event;

  • arranging for signage to direct attendees to the grassy venue after they arrived at the campus, the NASA live stream, the concession stand and the bathrooms;

  • arranging for a pop-up tent, tables, and chairs to be placed outside to use during the event and

  • having tables and chairs placed inside the Event Center room where the live stream would be shown.

About a month before the eclipse, I discussed the event with my Descriptive Astronomy and Life in the Universe students and asked if any of them would be willing to volunteer to help. I offered them extra credit points for their efforts. The students in these classes are mostly non-science major students, so being able to volunteer for a science event would be a special opportunity for them. Seven of my students volunteered. (For students who were unable to volunteer, I offered a smaller amount of extra credit if they came to the event and drew the Sun in eclipse.)

Morrison asked his physics students if they were interested in helping out, and two of these students volunteered. Morrison is also the faculty advisor for the college’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society’s chapter, and he contacted students in this society to ask for volunteers. Two of these students volunteered, one of whom was also in my Descriptive Astronomy class. A student who regularly attends planetarium shows signed up to volunteer, too, after Lee informed her that we were looking for student volunteers.

Seven of these eleven student volunteers and Lee attended an hour-long training session where I provided some background information about the Sun, solar eclipses, how to safely view the Sun (with eclipse viewers and other instruments), and some astronomical concepts that could be discussed at the event. The training including going outside to learn how to project the Sun’s image with a Sunspotter telescope, pinholes in stiff paper that projected the Sun’s image onto white foam board, and a Sun Funnel mounted on an 8-inch Orion reflector. These volunteers and Lee could then operate the college’s three Sunspotter telescopes and the Orion reflector with the Sun Funnel, show attendees how to view the Sun via pinhole projection and discuss the eclipse and related physical concepts with attendees as needed during the event. I held training at two different times to accommodate everyone’s schedules. However, I had offered three dates and times in case the weather was not favorable. It turned out that the weather was favorable only during the second and third sessions, so it was good to have offered three sessions. These sessions were held about two weeks before the eclipse occurred.

In addition to student volunteers, a biology faculty member, a physics faculty member, Morrison and I planned to volunteer on the day of the eclipse. Lee would also help out on the day of the event. Morrison would operate the 4-inch Meade telescope, and I would operate the Coronado. Any volunteers who did not attend training would help to distribute viewers and other handouts. All volunteers were expected to help with taking equipment, handouts, viewers, etc. outside. They were also expected to help with setting up equipment, as well as packing up equipment, handouts, etc. at the end of the event and bringing everything back inside unless they were available only for part of the event. Matthew Walusek, a JJC Media Services team member, would show the NASA live stream and take photographs. White was unable to help out on the day of the eclipse.

All volunteers as well as Lee and Walusek were given a free custom T-shirt that they were expected to wear on the day of the event so that they could be easily identified. The college’s marketing team produced the design for the T-shirt using a suggestion from my husband, Vikram Dwarkadas (who is also an astronomer), and myself. The design will also be printed on T-shirts for the April 2024 eclipse event. A local company made the T-shirts in about two weeks. Coincidentally the T-shirts arrived at the college about two weeks before the eclipse. Ordering T-shirts did involve guessing at how many T-shirts of a particular size to order because volunteers were still being recruited at the time of the order. Left over T-shirts will be used at the 2024 event.

On the day of the event, volunteers, Lee and Walusek also received a free JJC eclipse viewer and a JJC lanyard from which to hang it using the pre-punched hole at one corner of the viewer.

The promotion of the event occurred in a variety of complementary ways. I created a flyer that followed the college’s branding guidelines and had it mounted and placed on easels (borrowed from the college’s Media Services) around JJC’s Main Campus about two weeks before the event. The college’s Office of Student Activities posted the flyer on all college campuses around the same time.

Lee distributed copies of the flyer at public planetarium shows. She held planetarium shows focused on the Sun in the week before the eclipse to raise awareness about the eclipse and publicize the college’s event. The October 2023 planetarium newsletter that Lee sent out to a few hundred people included information about the event.

The college’s External Relations team also helped to publicize the event. They added the eclipse event to the list of events available at the college website, they promoted it on social media and in the college’s biweekly newsletter. They also produced a press release about ten days before the event. This was added to the college’s “Campus News” website accompanied by the flyer and sent to various media outlets.

In addition, there were three other opportunities that the External Relations team informed me about that helped to promote the eclipse event. The first one was on August 28, 2023, when Lee and I were interviewed by Scott Slocum of the local radio station 1340 WJOL, to promote the college’s Trackman planetarium. I spoke about using the planetarium in my classes as well as about JJC’s plans to host public viewing of the upcoming solar eclipses. The second one was on October 11, 2023. I was interviewed by Denise Baran-Unland of the Joliet Herald News to discuss the college’s plans for viewing the upcoming solar eclipse. The newspaper published an article by Baran-Unland on October 12, 2023 that was based on this interview. Lastly, on October 12, 2023, I was once again featured on WJOL. I spoke with Monica DeSantis about the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse and the college’s plans to host public viewing of it.

In April 2023, I applied for and was fortunate to be granted an Award for Innovation and Excellence from the JJC Foundation to fund the eclipse viewers, the T-shirts for both 2023 and 2024 eclipses and a solar eclipse globe (from Sky & Telescope). My department chair, Jon Laratta, was happy that I received these funds. He was willing to cover all costs associated with this event had my application not been funded. (The funds I received were to be used between July 2023 and June 2024, which worked perfectly with the dates of the two eclipses.)

I asked for funding for a solar eclipse globe because I felt that attendees might be interested in seeing where paths of totality for total solar eclipses from 2001 to 2100 fall across the world. The globe would also would be useful when explaining why a total solar eclipse can be seen only from a specific region of Earth. A comprehensive information sheet came with the globe. Copies of it were mounted on black poster board for volunteers and attendees to refer to during the event if they wished.

In August 2023, I obtained some free LightSound devices from Bieryla. These devices convert light intensity to a musical tone and enable the blind and low vision community experience a solar eclipse as mentioned earlier in this section. As the Sun's intensity changes during the eclipse, the musical tone of the device changes as demonstrated in a short video at the device’s webpage. JJC’s Media Services provided a battery operated loudspeaker to attach to a LightSound device so it could be used easily outside. I was eager to use this device to make JJC’s event inclusive, and mentioned in the press release that the device would be available during the eclipse event for persons who are blind and have low vision to “hear” the eclipse. For attendees who wanted to learn more about the LightSound device, there were two mounted flyers with QR codes available, one leading to the English version of the LightSound device website, and the other to the Spanish version. Attendees could scan the QR codes using a QR code reader app on their smartphone or tablet.

I planned to have some 4-inch styrofoam balls available to demonstrate how the angular size of a ball changes with distance as is seen in Figure 7 below. The Moon’s angular size changes as it travels in its slightly oval orbit around Earth, and a ball (representing the Moon) held at different distances from the eye could be used to demonstrate this. Due to the changing angular size of the Moon, an annular solar eclipse will occur when the Moon is further from Earth as the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, and a total solar eclipse will occur when the Moon is closer to Earth as the Moon travels between the Earth and the Sun. The ball can help to demonstrate how different Earth-Moon distances during solar eclipses will cause either a total or annular solar eclipse to be seen.

I anticipated that some attendees were likely to inquire about the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse since this eclipse has been mentioned along with the October 14, 2023 one. Therefore, I created a page-long information sheet with a picture of what this eclipse would look like from Joliet, IL at maximum eclipse, along with the start time, the end time and the time of maximum eclipse. The picture I used was from the collection of royalty-free images of the eclipsed Sun, available from the AAS’s solar eclipse website. Copies of the information sheet were mounted on poster board and could be placed on the outdoor tables for both attendees and volunteers to refer to and photograph if they wished. This eliminated the need to have copies to hand to attendees. Figure 9 shows two copies being displayed during the October 14 event (to the right and slightly above the eclipse globe in the picture).

I also wanted to capture the eclipsed Sun with my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot SX50 HS camera. I used a white light solar filter that the college had purchased previously with my camera (this filter and its twin were usually used on binoculars to see the Sun). I practiced photographing the Sun on a few sunny days before the eclipse and was able to capture reasonably detailed images of the Sun using the camera’s 50X optical zoom, with the camera mounted on a tripod (obtained from the college’s Natural Sciences Department). This made me feel confident that I could photograph the Sun during the eclipse with some exposure time adjustments. I would, of course, have to arrange for someone to attend to the Coronado telescope every time I took photographs of the Sun during the eclipse.

About two or three weeks before the eclipse, the college’s Media Services created outdoor signs to direct attendees to the event. These signs were placed at appropriate locations by the college’s Facilities Services closer to the event. Facilities Services were requested to set up several tables and chairs on the grass outside the Event Center for volunteers to distribute viewers and handouts, and to place Sunspotters and other equipment like we had done in 2017 (Figure 1, Figure 4, and Figure 6 show how tables and chairs were used in 2017). They also set up trash cans on the grass. White arranged for a pop-up tent to be set up by Facilities Services to provide some shade and shelter for the equipment in case of light rain. The college’s Agricultural, Horticultural and Veterinary Sciences Department kindly provided the pop-up tent. Facilities Services put tables and chairs inside the Event Center room where the NASA live feed was to be shown. The floor of the room is artificial turf, so having chairs for attendees to sit on would be more comfortable than the artificial turf.

4. Alternate plans triggered by clouds and rain on the eclipse day

As October 14, 2023 drew near, the weather forecast predicted clouds and rain for most of the three or four days preceding the eclipse and for October 14. Hence, Morrison, White, Lee and I decided to make alternate plans. We would distribute viewers as originally planned. We would use only one Sunspotter, the 8-inch reflector with Sun Funnel and the pinhole projection templates accompanied by white foam boards to show the Sun’s projected image, assuming the Sun would be bright enough to project.

Walusek would show the NASA live feed in the Event Center, take photos of the event and set up the speaker for the LightSound device as originally planned.

Lee put together a 20-30 minute planetarium presentation that would be repeated three times to complement NASA’s live stream. The presentation included (i) what the October 14, 2023 eclipse looked like from Joliet, IL and San Antonio, TX (where the eclipse was annular) using the planetarium projector, (ii) the view from space of the Moon’s umbral shadow traveling across Mexico, USA and Canada during the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse using the planetarium projector (which I had already made to show my students using the Digitarium’s Nightshade software) and (iii) short full-dome movies on solar eclipses and the Sun that the planetarium already had.

We decided to go outside if the Sun happened to peek through the clouds, even for a short while. This would have meant that some or all planetarium shows would not have been held.

I made a flyer with the schedule of the three planetarium shows and a statement saying that we would cancel one or more shows if the Sun could be seen. All volunteers, Lee, and Walusek were given copies of this flyer and a copy was put at the entrance to the planetarium.

I created a new set of tasks for volunteers on October 13, 2023 as given below. I arranged the tasks so that all student volunteers were given time to view Lee’s planetarium presentation.

  • some would monitor the weather from the Event Center;

  • some would chaperone attendees from the Event Center to the planetarium and back since the planetarium is not in the Event Center building; and

  • some would be stationed outside the planetarium directing attendees to the planetarium and the Event Center.

  • Other volunteers would be in the Event Center

    • distributing viewers;

    • explaining how the LightSound device worked;

    • talking about the solar eclipse globe;

    • helping any of my students who came to the event and wanted to draw the Sun to earn extra credit points (these students would obviously not be able to draw the Sun, but would get the points for attending); or

    • directing attendees to the live stream.

Facilities Services set up tables and chairs outside the Event Center on October 13, 2023. They also set up the pop-up tent that we requested that same day, but they were not comfortable keeping it up through the weekend because windy conditions were predicted in addition to clouds and rain. Because of their concerns, the tent was removed on October 13 itself.

The Fitness Center kindly lent us towels to dry the outdoor tables before putting viewers, handouts and equipment on them if we went outside to see the eclipse.

Media Services made an alternate outdoor sign to direct attendees to the Event Center room where they could pick up a viewer and watch NASA’s eclipse live stream. I put this sign up on October 14 before the event started because by then it was clear that there was next to no chance that we would be outside viewing the eclipse.

As mentioned in the introduction, the weather on October 14, 2023 was cloudy with occasional rain before and during the eclipse. However, at least 80 people came to the event. Attendees were happy to receive a custom JJC eclipse viewer and watch the planetarium show. They were given instructions on how to use the viewer to safely view the Sun and advised to use it even when the Sun is not being eclipsed. Some watched NASA’s live feed before or after attending the planetarium show. A few children were fascinated by the eclipse globe.

We showed attendees how the LightSound device would have worked during an eclipse by shining a flashlight on it from different distances to simulate the changing intensity of the Sun's light during an eclipse.

Student volunteers appreciated being able to attend the planetarium show. They very kindly retrieved the flyers and easels that were placed around the Main Campus after the event had ended. Some mentioned that they enjoyed helping out at this event.

The entire planning team was very disappointed to not be able to see the eclipse after spending so much time planning for it, but we were glad that the alternate plans went off smoothly.

A few pictures from the event are shown below:

A styrofoam ball is used to explain angular size.
Figure 7

Physics and astronomy professor, Andrew Morrison, at the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse event, talking to a student volunteer about the angular size of an object and its connection to annular and total solar eclipses with the help of a 4-inch styrofoam ball (representing the Moon) on a pencil. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

People talking outside the planetarium.
Figure 8

Physics professor, Bill Hogan (in purple T-shirt, at right), talks to an attendee about the eclipse outside the Trackman planetarium, at the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse event, while a student volunteer, seated at left, looks on. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services)

People collecting handouts from volunteers at the solar eclipse event.
Figure 9

A student volunteer (at left) looks at the solar eclipse globe, while the author (in purple T-shirt, at rear) talks to attendees at the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse event. (Credit: Joliet Junior College Media Services).

5. Preparing for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse

The plans for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse public viewing event will closely follow those of the October 14, 2023 eclipse. The grass in front of the Event Center will be used yet again to view the eclipse as the Sun’s path will be almost the same as it was on August 21, 2017. The eclipse viewers are already on hand, the T-shirt design is already set and the Event Center space has been booked to show NASA’s live stream. The rest of the preparations will be done closer to the event.

The April 2024 eclipse will occur on a Monday, when classes will be in session, unlike the October 2023 eclipse, which occurred on a Saturday. If the weather is favorable, many faculty members will bring their classes to see it like they did in 2017. Other students, faculty members and staff from the college as well as members of the public will also be there to view it.

One of my classes meets during the April 2024 eclipse, and I will definitely bring these students to view the eclipse. I will encourage the rest of my students to view it as well since the next deep partial solar eclipse from Joliet, IL, similar to this one will occur only on September 14, 2099.

6. Conclusion

JJC invited the public to safely view the October 14, 2023 solar eclipse. Unfortunately, weather conditions prevented us from seeing the eclipse from Joliet, IL. We still had at least 80 people come to the college for the free event. They were given a free custom JJC eclipse viewer and instructions on how to use it to safely view the Sun, whether it is being eclipsed or not. They could watch NASA’s live feed of the solar eclipse and attend a short planetarium show on solar eclipses and the Sun.

Eleven students and four faculty members volunteered at the event. The planetarium outreach coordinator hosted the planetarium show and a Media Services team member set up the NASA live stream and took photographs. Several other staff members from different parts of the college contributed to the planning and successful execution this event in the months and days leading up to it. The JJC Foundation and the Natural Sciences department provided funding for it.

The preparation for this event closely followed the preparations for the highly successful August 21, 2017 solar eclipse public event. Similar preparations are underway for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse in order to engage as many people as possible from the college and surrounding community in safely viewing this deep partial eclipse. I hope there will be at least as many people in attendance on April 8, 2024 as we had on August 21, 2017 because the next time we will be able to see a similar deep partial solar eclipse from Joliet, IL, will be on September 14, 2099.

To help others organize successful public viewing events for solar eclipses, I have provided some recommendations below based on my experience so far. I am happy to be contacted at [email protected] with questions regarding planning such events.

  • Attend workshops or conferences on planning for upcoming solar eclipses to learn how best to plan your event.

  • Choose a grassy location from which to view the eclipse well ahead of time. Observe the Sun travel the same path as on the day of the eclipse to be sure the location is optimal for viewing the Sun during the eclipse.

  • If possible, give eclipse glasses or viewers to attendees for free to safely view the eclipse. The eclipse glasses or viewers need to be ordered around four months ahead of time from a reliable company as the demand for these items in the lead up the eclipse will increase. Additional lead time of two to three months may be needed if a custom design has to be created.

  • Consider using a Sunspotter or a telescope with a Sun Funnel to project the Sun's image for several people to view at the same time.

  • Recruit and train volunteers to discuss the eclipse itself, upcoming eclipses and concepts associated with eclipses with attendees, and to operate solar equipment that will be used at the event. Recruit additional volunteers to distribute viewers if these are being given to attendees so attendees do not have to wait in line in line for more than about three to five minutes to collect viewers.

  • Consider using a free LightSound device to make your event accessible to persons who are blind and have low vision. A loudspeaker will be needed to play the sound from the device.

  • If possible, have your event near a building with a large indoor space where a live stream of the total or annular solar eclipse can be shown if the eclipse is partial at your location. The live stream can be used as a back up in case of inclement weather. Attendees can use the indoor space to cool off or warm up depending on weather conditions and use the building’s bathrooms.

  • Decide if attendees need to pay for your event or if it will be free. Since weather conditions can prevent the eclipse from being seen, it is easier to hold a free event and give attendees free glasses or viewers.

  • Promote your event several weeks before the eclipse occurs.

  • Arrange to have your event photographed.

  • Arrange for funding to cover costs associated with your event. Apply for grants which work with your eclipse planning timetable.

  • Have fun working with your team as you plan the event and be sure to enjoy the eclipse along with your attendees!


I thank Vikram Dwarkadas for giving me comments on this article that improved it immensely. I also thank the editorial team for feedback that helped to further improve this article.

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