Excitement is building in Missouri for an out-of-this-world event that will take place on Aug. 21, 2017.
Several Missouri towns will be in the path of totality for a rare solar eclipse on that date. It will be the first time a total eclipse has swept across the United States since 1918.
It is expected that people will flock to the area creating a short-lived boon to the hotel-motel industry, gas stations, quick shops, and eateries. Other tourism sites will likely see an increase in visitors as well.
A solar eclipse happens when a new moon passes between the earth and the sun. For just a few brief moments, the shadow of the moon blocks sunlight from reaching the earth. A total solar eclipse completely blocks the sun from our view while a partial solar eclipse only covers part of the sun.
Therefore, people wanting the full experience will want to find a viewing location where a total eclipse is expected.
Fortunately, astronomers are able to predict when an eclipse will take place based on the position of the earth and moon relative to the sun.
Some of the things a total eclipse chaser may experience include a dropping temperature caused by the loss of sunlight, stars appearing in the sky, and birds becoming confused and singing, thinking it is dawn or evening.
During a total eclipse, the sun’s corona, which is cooler than the sun, is visible beyond the edges of the moon’s shadow. The corona is the outer atmosphere of the sun and is not normally visible to the eye.
During an eclipse, the viewer also might be able to see solar prominences, solar material that has been ejected from the sun’s surface. The corona consists of extremely hot ionized gases that do not produce much visible light, but the prominence plasma is cooler, resulting in a bright, gaseous feature that extends outward from the sun’s surface.
But most of all, the experience has been described as eerie, awe-inspiring, unsettling, beautiful, and emotionally overwhelming. It seems it would make one think about the order of the universe and just how small and insignificant our human presence in the overall scheme of the cosmos.
Of course, astronomers view solar eclipses with excitement. Science teachers throughout the area will see this as a great educable moment as they undertake to impress young minds with facts of astronomy.
Conscientious parents will plan for their children to get the opportunity to experience this rare astronomical event firsthand.
Viewing an eclipse with the naked eye can result in permanent eye damage or even blindness. Anyone planning to view an eclipse needs to be sure they have special ISO-certified eclipse viewing glasses. It would be smart to buy them ahead of the eclipse because vendors in various communities may not have them or may not stock enough.
Never view an eclipse without proper eye protection and please supervise children closely during the entire event.
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The eclipse will sweep across the United States and can be viewed in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.
Assuming most readers of the River Hills Traveler will be watching the eclipse in Missouri, a map detailing the path of the eclipse is provided here. The straight line through the center illustrates the path of totality where a total eclipse will be visible, assuming there is not an issue with cloud cover.
This line extends straight from St. Joseph on the western border of the state through St. Clair in Franklin County and on to the eastern border in Ste. Genevieve County. The wider band includes a much larger area, but only a partial eclipse is expected to be visible for viewers not on the path of totality.
As an example, St. Clair, Mo., will experience two minutes and forty seconds of total eclipse. The partial phase will begin at 11:40:42 a.m. The totality phase at St. Clair will begin at 1:06:27 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Information on the eclipse schedule for other Missouri towns and cities can be found at www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/MO.
In ancient times, solar eclipses caused great fear among people who did not understand what was happening. In some more primitive societies, they are still believed to be harbingers of bad luck.
Missouri communities need to prepare for an onslaught of visitors. In the past, some small towns have been overwhelmed by a huge number of outsiders descending upon their quiet village to view an eclipse, a scene reminiscent of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.
A YouTube video reportedly shows a small town in Utah with only 1,200 inhabitants that was inundated with 100,000 outsiders who showed up to observe a past eclipse. Because there are a number of locations in Missouri where the eclipse can be viewed, it is doubtful any towns encounter a problem as serious as related in the Utah story.
However, to keep down chaos, towns, especially those in the path of totality, need to plan for an increased police presence, establish viewing areas, and plan how to handle people wanting to camp in tents. Restaurants and other businesses will need to schedule extra workers. Some communities will go the extra mile, planning festivals and other events to entertain the visitors.
Despite all of the planning a community might do, cloud cover could send eclipse seekers scrambling for a different location.
Hotels and motels have been receiving reservations for some time. Jason Alexander, who owns Budget Lodging in St. Clair, reports that the first eclipse reservation came through in 2012.
Alexander now has reservations from several other states and from the United Kingdom. He wants to point out that there are still rooms available for the eclipse.
The manager of Super 8 Motel in St. Clair was not able to access their reservation system to learn how many reservations have been made for the eclipse, but she is sure they still have rooms available.
(Sue Blesi is a staff writer for the River Hills Traveler. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Sue Blesi