Celebrating the Eclipse: From Science to Solar Suds

Communities in the path prepare for an influx of sky-watchers.

ARTICLE | Aug 7, 2017

Community members, tourists, and scientists will gather in cities across the country to experience the total solar eclipse that will darken the skies from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21. The event will be marked by viewing parties, local festivals, and other events—to say nothing of commemorative T shirts, mugs, posters, and beer koozies.

Several cities responded to ICMA’s invitation to report on their eclipse-related preparations, and here’s a sampling of what some communities are doing.

Carbondale’s “Moment Under No Sun”

In Carbondale, Illinois (Gary Williams, city manager), the total eclipse will last for a full 2 minutes and 38 seconds—one of the longest periods of any location. And Carbondale has been identified as one of the best U.S. cities from which to watch the eclipse. Because the city is home to Southern Illinois University, many of the eclipse-related events focus on the scientific and educational aspects of the eclipse as well as the celebratory ones.

According to Williams, both the city and the university are taking advantage of the eclipse as an opportunity to help promote the region. The city alerted residents in advance to prepare for crowds and has launched an informational hotline that will operate before and during the eclipse. A dedicated website provides information for residents, local vendors, visitors, and media.

Carbondale was featured in a New York Times article, “A College Town Gets Ready for Its Moment Under No Sun.” The writer noted that the city is expecting tens of thousands of visitors to join its 26,000 residents for this “celestial Super Bowl.” The university’s stadium provides seating for up to 15,000 people to watch the eclipse, preceded by a NASA pregame show.

Carbondale’s “moment under no sun” will not end on August 21. It is also in the path of a second eclipse that will occur in 2024.

Jefferson City’s Capital Eclipse Celebration

Another community in the path of the eclipse is Jefferson City, Missouri (Steven Crowell, Jr., City Administrator), which is promoting a three-day Capital Eclipse Celebration. While the Celebration is spearheaded by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city is very involved in operational aspects such as transit, safety, and other considerations related to an anticipated influx of 50,000 visitors. Hotel rooms sold out well in advance.

The Celebration schedule promotes local events that sky-gazing visitors can enjoy while they’re in town: opportunities to meet NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and visit NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow traveling exhibit, educational programs offered by the regional library, a mini-carnival, a bicycle pub crawl, a tour of the decommissioned Missouri State Penitentiary—and much more.

Like Carbondale, Jefferson City is one of the locations with the longest eclipse duration, and it is included in another list of the best places for eclipse viewing--this one in the New York Times. And NASA TV has designated Jefferson City as one of just seven locations across the country from which it will broadcast the eclipse live.

Spotlight (or No Light?) on Nebraska

Nebraska Life magazine published a “Web Extra” describing plans in several dozen communities in the Cornhusker State—among them are multiple festivals and viewing parties, “solar suds” at several breweries, a watermelon feed in Wymore, a SolFest gala featuring Nebraska native NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson in Hastings, a visit from Astronaut Mike Fincke in Kearney—and a “skip day” for students at Concordia University in Seward.

The Nebraska Eclipse Coalition has launched a website with community-by-community information.

Safety First

An important component of virtually all eclipse observations is public education about viewing safety. Many—but not all—viewers know that looking at the eclipse without eye protection can cause permanent retinal damage. NASA provides safety information and a list of reputable vendors on its website, and cities planning eclipse events often provide safety information in their programming. Carbondale, for example, refers potential visitors to the NASA site, and Jefferson City offers its own logo-decorated eclipse glasses.

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