‘Just try to be in the moment’: Bill Nye shares eclipse insights & tips ahead of his trip to Texas

The Science Guy will be at the Planetary Society’s Eclipse-O-Rama in Fredericksburg.

By Laura Rice & Alan Tiscareno April 3, 2024 3:39 pm, ,

Bill Nye is coming to Texas.

The Science Guy, known for his popular show during the 90s, will be at the Planetary Society’s Eclipse-O-Rama in Fredericksburg during the total solar eclipse on April 8.

The science educator, comedian and best-selling author joined the Texas Standard to talk about the total eclipse, climate change and even his outfits. Listen to the interview above or read transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Well, I imagine this will not be your first total solar eclipse. Can you tell us about any experiences that stick in your memory?  

Bill Nye: I was in Nebraska in 2017, which wasn’t that long ago, and it was spectacular. I was in South Africa for an eclipse, where it was very cloudy up to the last moment, and it’s still cool – but it’s way cooler when there are no clouds. 

So everybody, if you’ve not seen a total solar eclipse, I cannot say enough good things. “Well, what if I see the partial eclipse? What if I decide I’ll just stay in Tulsa or Brownsville or something?” Take your time, take the day, whatever it is, and drive an hour, an hour and a half and get under the path of totality. Because it is amazing.

You know, we had the Ring of Fire cross over a big swath of Texas, too, and it’s amazing how much it didn’t get dark.

Exactly. The ring of fire was the annular eclipse; annulus means “ring” in Latin. So, that was because you had a ring around the moon, a very bright sunlight, because the moon’s orbit isn’t quite round; it’s elliptical.

And so to get a total solar eclipse, you have to have the convergence of the moon passing between you and the sun. You have to be somewhere on the Earth’s surface where that’s happening, and then the moon has to be in the part of its orbit where it’s closer to Earth. It’s a difference of like 40,000 kilometers, which in outer space isn’t much, but it’s a lot. 

We don’t know of any other planet in the solar system or in the cosmos where the moon blocks – and there’s just a fabulous geometry word, subtends – the moon subtends the same width of sky as the sun. 

Most places that we can tell, all the moons are much smaller and they don’t block the sun out this way. So Earth is amazing in that way. So what’ll happen? You guys have heard the story. The birds will chirp, the crickets will tweet – or they’ll crick, whatever they do.

» MORE: Like ‘some invisible force is taking a bite out of the sun’: What to expect on eclipse day in Texas

And then, the other strange and amazing thing: So you have the eclipse glasses on to the last moment you’re watching … and then the world goes dark. You can take your eclipse glasses off, look around, listen to the sounds, and there’ll be a breeze because the ground gets cooled off so fast that the cool air will squeeze the warm air up and you’ll get a little bit of a breeze, and just for those four minutes; it’s amazing. 

So, it’s an exciting time. The next one, you guys, isn’t till 2044. So I hope to be around for that one; I’m of a certain age, who knows? Total solar eclipses happen all the time, every year and a half or so. But what makes this one important is it’s happening over a place where we live. 

You know, there are people who just get on ships – most solar eclipses occur in the middle of the ocean because most of the Earth is covered with water – and they chase the eclipses, and it’s big fun. There are people who get in airplanes and chase them around, and that’s cool.

But, what’s really great is when you have this shared experience out there with thousands of your fellow citizens soaking up the dark.  

You mentioned the eclipse glasses. I feel like those are easy to get right now – they’re at the grocery store; you can order them online. Now, if for some reason somebody doesn’t have their eclipse glasses, they can go to planetary.org and also make a like a pinhole viewer.

A pinhole viewer is very cool. If you’ve never made one, there’s not much to it: Get a small hole. And what I’ve had great success with is something akin to a shoe box or a bigger cardboard box and cut a hole in one end, as big as – pick a number: a ping pong ball; as big as your circle of your thumb and index finger – and then tape a piece of aluminum foil over that opening, and then take a pin and make a tiny hole.

The thing that degrade the experience with cardboard is the thickness of the cardboard. So if you can put a piece of aluminum foil, it’s a classic. It’s so thin, you can make such a tiny perfect hole. And it’s just the nature of the wave, nature of light, everybody. When an image about a half a degree wide, which is what the sun and the moon are, comes through this pinhole, it makes a silhouette of what you’re seeing, like a perfect or very good silhouette.

And the longer the distance from your pinhole to whatever you’re going to look at at the other end of the shoe box, the other end of your refrigerator box, then the image will be bigger. But the pinhole is quite cool.

So it’s worth doing even if you have the even if you have the glasses, you think?

It’s something to try. The other thing – which I’ve done once, and it’s okay for a moment – you take your fingers and interlace them, and you end up making a half dozen pinholes, and you can have it projected on the ground. If you have a nice white piece of paper on the ground, then you go, “wow, look at that. The moon is covering up the sun.”

But that moment when it goes totally dark, pinhole shminhole: Just enjoy those four minutes.

My advice to everybody: We all nowadays, everywhere I go, “Can I take a selfie? Can I take a selfie? Can I take a selfie?” I know you all want to take pictures, but just try to be in the moment. Just be there, remember the moment, remember what you were doing on April 8th about 1:30 in the afternoon in Hill Country of Texas. It’s just an extraordinary experience.

And you just think what ancient peoples must have thought. They must have thought the world was ending or the sky is falling or one of these things, and it’s not. It’s this remarkable phenomenon that’s available to us as Earthlings. For most of us, it’s a once in a lifetime; for many of us, it’s a couple or three in our lifetime. And it’s so convenient in that it’s coming right over civilization, interstate highways going all over the place.

Now if folks join you out at Eclipse-O-Rama in Fredericksburg, I’m sure you guys will also have, what, like fancy telescopes and things with lenses?

We’re going to have star parties; we’re going to watch some original “Cosmos” episodes. You know, the shared experience is wonderful. That’s why people go to theaters, is for the shared experience.

This eclipse is an opportunity on an international scale – you know, 40 million people are just living in the path. And if people take that little bit of trouble to drive north, south, east or west to get in the path for real, more than 200 million people will be able to see it, and that’s really something.

» MORE: Solar eclipse expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in Texas

Do you have a special outfit planned? A good bow tie?

Oh my God, yes I do. Yes, I have a special outfit – not that special – but I’m going to wear a bow tie. And, just some disclosure everybody, I’m also going to wear a shirt.

Okay, and pants I hope.

Yeah, well, I don’t want to scare people.

It is a cool thing. So if you come with us to Fredericksburg with the Planetary Society – the Planetary Society was started by Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, the head of the Jet Propulsion Lab, back in 1980. They wanted people to get excited about space.

I always like to remind people, science is part of what made the United States what it is. The word “science” is in the U.S. Constitution: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 charges Congress with “supporting the progress of science and useful arts.” It’s very cool. So it’s exciting.

I’ve got to say, it’s been interesting: You’ve made some headlines lately talking about climate change. It’s not new for anybody to talk about climate change. Why do you think it makes headlines when you do?

Well, okay. People ask me to speak about it. And everybody, look, my fellow Texans: I used to work in the oil patch. I used to work in Victoria, Snyder, Big Spring, Refugio – one of the towns that claims it’s where Nolan Ryan was born; I don’t know which one it really was.

So I used to work in the oil field. But we can’t do that anymore. We can’t burn fossil fuels anymore. We have to stop. The science of this is overwhelming. We can do this – this is the United States. We can get together and solve this enormous problem.

Yes, we got a long way by burning ancient swamps in the Permian Basin. Yes, those were the days. But we can’t do it anymore; we got to move on. So the sooner we get to work, the better.

And for me, this total solar eclipse is part of the celebration of the process of science and our understanding the cosmos and our place within it. And I’m not kidding, it’s an exciting time

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