Picture yourself spending the afternoon outside, soaking up the sun in mid-August. At exactly 1:12 p.m. daylight fades and the sky darkens, revealing a dark hole in the horizon outlined by a bright light. Birds start to sing their songs of sleep and cows turn in toward the barn for the evening. Centuries before technology allowed for monitoring the Earth’s position to the moon and sun, people might have speculated the world was coming to an end.
When items virtually disappeared from supermarket shelves at the mere forecast of an “ice-apocalypse,” how will mid-Missouri prepare for the most viewed celestial event in history?
Angela Speck has studied the total solar eclipse, which will occur on Aug. 21, 2017, and is working diligently to inform the public. Speck is the director of the astronomy program at the University of Missouri and serves as co-chair on a national task force coordinating with NASA to maximize the number of civilians getting to witness the event.
Her greatest task is to coordinate the mass numbers of people who will be traveling to the region. Twelve million people (3.8 percent of the U.S. population) reside within the path of totality. The total solar eclipse scheduled for summer of 2017 has consumed her life since she moved to Missouri and became aware of it in 2003.
The path of the eclipse is 4,000 miles long, spanning through 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina. States experiencing totality include: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. The entire occurrence, from west coast to east, will last two to three hours.
The last total solar eclipse in Missouri was in 1869. And Columbia has not witnessed one since 1442. The city of Columbia is expected to triple or quadruple in size. Columbia will have two minutes and 36 seconds of total darkness. The longest duration will be two minutes and 42 seconds near the Columbia Regional Airport.
Anyone watching the event outside the 30 mile span of totality will need to wear special safety glasses, which allow one millionth of the sun’s light to shine through. To avoid serious injury, safety glasses are required to witness any partial phase of the eclipse.
Mary Keller was hired by the Marshall, Missouri, Tourism Commission as the community eclipse coordinator. She oversees planning and marketing efforts around the event. The main concern is how to handle the people coming to experience the eclipse. The majority of citizens residing within the continental U.S. live within a day’s drive to experience totality. Keller is corresponding with the local police force to ensure crowds are managed to maintain safety of all.
The Saline County Fairgrounds, Van Meter State Park and Arrow Rock have been identified as preferred viewing locations. Keller is coordinating educational events for community members while preparing for the celestial event. Fred Espinec, a retired NASA official has spoken to groups in the area, and informational classes have been scheduled for August 21. Keller is focused on how to benefit Marshall, Missouri, from a long-term perspective. She explained that once people come to the area, there is opportunity for economic return.
As communities prepare for visitors, schools are facing the challenge of deciding if classes will be in session. Speck encouraged both MU and the Columbia public schools to hold classes on August 21. She believes having school in session will help keep youth safe and provide a sense of normality for the day. Speck also assisted Carol Maher, superintendent of Marshall Public Schools in deciding to hold classes. This has been a controversial decision, as some teachers have stated they would like to be able to experience the day with their families and children.
This eclipse will serve as an opportunity for researchers to study animal behaviors and learn more about total solar eclipses before the next one occurs in Missouri in 2025. As for capturing the event with your smartphone, leave this to professional photographers, as solar lenses are required and using a flash will diminish the experience for others around you.
For more information please visit NASA’s website containing details about the eclipse at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.