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The eclipse was so beautiful they did it twice


It’s rare for a total solar eclipse to strike the same place twice — once every 366 years on average. In 2019, this happened in the Pacific Ocean, off the far western coast of Chile. As luck would have it, the next one will span a roughly 10,000-square-mile region that includes parts of southern Illinois, southeast Missouri and western Kentucky.

People in these areas will face the April 8 eclipse about seven years after being halfway through the “Great American Eclipse.”

For this total eclipse, which occurred on August 21, 2017, Southern Illinois University sold its football stadium in the town of Carbondale.

“We had people screaming,” said Bob Baer, ​​director of the university’s astronomical observing program. “But unlike a football game, they were all shouting for the same thing.”

The college town, with a population of nearly 22,000, was among the Midwest’s most popular hotspots for the 2017 eclipse. Now Carbondale and its neighbors are bracing for another sunless day. While cities in the region spent an average of about two and a half minutes in the darkness of totality in 2017, this time they will experience about four minutes of totality. The preparation and hype have also increased.

Mr. Baer first learned that Carbondale, five hours south of Chicago, was at the crossroads of two solar eclipses nearly a decade before the 2017 event. But the significance didn’t really sink in for him until 2014, when an astronomer from the National Solar Observatory reached out to him.

“Once I figured it out, I fell off my chair,” Mr. Baer said, although he had difficulty convincing anyone. “When I started telling people about the eclipse, their eyes were obscured. I would lose them in the first 20 seconds.

This began to change as August 2017 approached. Carbondale, which had been planning this eclipse for three years, welcomed about 14,000 people. Clouds obscured much of the view that day, but the common experience nevertheless struck people. The excitement generated by this event continues to reverberate seven years later.

“The atmosphere is always pretty electric here,” Mr. Baer said. “Lots of anticipation.”

Not everyone was as prepared as Carbondale was in 2017. Seventy miles away, city officials in Paducah, Ky., were surprised by the number of visitors they received.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Angela Schade, downtown development specialist with the Paducah Planning Department. She remembers that residents rented their land to campers to try to make room for everyone who came to watch the eclipse. Ms. Schade watched the spectacle from the parking lot of her work but did not fully understand what she was experiencing.

This year, Paducah is hosting a street fair where educators will teach people the science of eclipses. The National Quilt Museum — of Paducah fame — will host a exposure featuring the work of Karen Nyberg, a retired NASA astronaut who makes space-themed quilts.

Ms. Schade also ensures that Paducah’s street lights do not automatically turn on when the sun disappears.

Paducah wasn’t the only Crossroads town to be submerged in 2017. In Makanda, Illinois, a village of fewer than 600 people, a surge of 12,000 people came to view the eclipse.

“We had all hands on deck,” said Debbie Dunn, festival events coordinator. The city, located right in the middle of the path of the eclipse, experienced the longest duration of totality. An artist painted a neon orange line across the city – and in his own studio – to mark the center line of the moon’s shadow.

Makanda will no longer be the site of the longest totality in April – it will be near Torreón, Mexico. But according to Dunn, interest in the eclipse appears higher than it was in 2017.

“All of our neighboring communities have planned all of these things,” she said, adding that last time Carbondale was the only place in southern Illinois that did something big.

Events aren’t limited to the day of the eclipse: communities plan festivities for the weekend before and the evening after totality. Part of this is strategic: Makanda is organizing a dance party on the night of April 8, for example, hoping to alleviate the type of post-eclipse traffic jams that paralyzed the city in 2017.

Pat Hunt, who directs Apple Creek Vineyard and Winery with his family in Friedheim, Missouri, is hosting a weekend of live music and food.

Ms Hunt described the experience at her vineyard in 2017 as chaotic, mainly because no one knew how many people would show up. “We just had nightmares the first time,” she said. “We weren’t as prepared as we should have been.”

This time, they’re selling tickets to control visitor arrivals and adding 10 employees to help on eclipse day, many of whom focus on traffic and parking.

College towns seemed better prepared in 2017. “We weren’t caught off guard,” said Bruce Skinner, chairman of the eclipse committee at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. In 2017, the event coincided with the first day of classes, so the university incorporated it into orientation activities.

On April 8, classes will be canceled due to a school-wide block party. Many students will participate in NASA-funded research projects.

After that, we will have to wait until 2045 for a total solar eclipse to occur in this region which has the chance to see two in seven years.

“For a lot of people who are going to see it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Dr. Skinner said. But for those at the crossroads, “this is going to be a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.”


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