Southern Illinois prepares for 2017 solar eclipse

The countdown is on for a solar eclipse next August. People across southern Illinois are preparing for a twice in a lifetime event, getting ready for not one but two solar eclipses set to cross over Carbondale in 2017 and in 2024.

The astronomical events could mean a big boost for tourism dollars and, with a little more than a year to go before the first eclipse, people are already planning for it.

Bob Baer, co-chair of the Southern Illinois University eclipse steering committee, says the school has been working toward the 2017 eclipse for two years now. He says the school will have a prime viewing spot and researching location. And, it’s perfect timing for students.

"It’s the first day of classes, so we’ll have all the students coming back, and they’re coming back to see an eclipse," Baer said.

As many as 50,000 people are expected to watch the eclipse next August in southern Illinois, many inside Saluki Stadium at SIU.

"We’re all coming together to plan on how we’re going to handle this," said Cinnamon Smith, Executive Director of Carbondale Tourism.

Smith says countless people from around 15 southern Illinois counties are preparing for the boom in tourism and traffic to the area. She says they’re talking and meeting with city and area economic leaders, as well as restaurants and campgrounds, on how to help manage the huge demand for services. Smith says even Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation are working together to help manage the thousands of people traveling to the area.

"The university, of course, educators, you name it. It’s going to take everyone to pull off this massive event and ensure that we provide a positive experience for all visitors that are coming this way," Smith said.

Many towns will see the eclipse as it works its way around the U.S., but Baer says Carbondale is lucky enough to have one of the longest durations to view the totality of the eclipse. He says SIU’s students and researchers are working with top scientists and NASA to get video of the eclipse and study the corona from the sun in ways science has never been able to as thoroughly as they can. 

SIU is also a part of the citizen CATE experiment, setting up 60 telescopes around the U.S. to get a full view of the eclipse as it crosses from coast to coast.

"Being able to capture that data in the United States and have 60 telescopes along that eclipse path is a big deal," Baer said.

Baer says the entire eclipse will last just three hours, but the research and experience from it will put Carbondale on the map worldwide.

While the totality of the eclipse can be viewed without protective eye-wear, the partial eclipse will be too harsh to see without them.

You can purchase eclipse viewing glasses at Quatro’s pizza, Fat Pattie’s, True Value in the Murdale Shopping Center and at Tres Hombres.  

For businesses looking to find out more on how to plan for the eclipse, you can check with the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce. Its next meeting to talk to the public about plans for the eclipse will be at 6 p.m. on Aug. 16.

SIU says it plans to hold a one-year countdown event starting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2016.

The 2017 solar eclipse will happen on Aug. 21. For more information on viewing the eclipse at SIU, click here.  

To follow updates including preview events from area businesses about the eclipse, view the Facebook page.

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