How a campus is preparing for the eclipse of a lifetime

Students and employees of Southern Illinois University (SIU) and the general public will share a special moment in the school's stadium on August 21 as they witness the first total solar eclipse to move across the contiguous United States since 1918, Nicholas St. Fleur writes for the New York Times.

On that day, the moon will block the sun and everything will be completely dark for about two and a half minutes, writes St. Fleur. The temperature will fall. And then a beautiful white halo will appear, he writes.

Lou Mayo, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the program manager for the agency’s eclipse planning, says the eclipse will become a major moment of American history. "People remember where they were when Kennedy was shot; people remember the moon landing," he says. "People will remember this eclipse."

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Carbondale is near the point of greatest duration, according to NASA. This means the moon will cover the sun in this place for longer than almost anywhere else.

NASA estimates that tens of thousands of people from all over the world will visit Carbondale to experience the eclipse, though local officials are preparing for even more. According to Cinnamon Smith, executive director of Carbondale Tourism, every hotel has been booked full—one hotel has been sold out for more than a year. SIU has opened a dormitory hall with 200 suites for visitors to rent—most of which have also been booked, writes St. Fleur.

Visitors will view a NASA "pregame show" in SIU's Saluki Stadium before the eclipse begins. The university will provide high-powered telescopes, through a partnership with Lunt Solar Systems, who will produce ultra-high-definition images of the event. The school has also ordered 50,000 solar eclipse glasses and canceled classes for the eclipse.

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In addition, the school plans to host a music festival called "Shadowfest" that officials hope to continue every year until the next eclipse in 2024, writes St. Fleur.

Bob Baer, a computer and electronics specialist at SIU's physics department, has been a central figure in preparing the university for the eclipse. He points out that Carbondale is also in the line of totality—the zone where the sun will be completely obscured—for the next eclipse, coming up soon on April 8, 2024. Baer has partnered with Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the National Solar Observatory to help educate and entertain visitors to the university and ensure scientists can use the event for their research.

Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute, says she will be in the bleachers at Saluki Stadium to observe the eclipse with a telescope for her research. "I feel like I'll be lost observing and then forget to take the data," she says (St. Fleur, New York Times, 6/30).

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