Thousands of tourists, students, researchers view eclipse from SIUC

Thousands of people packed inside Saluki Stadium Monday at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, to watch the total eclipse.

Along with school groups and researchers, NASA picked SIUC to broadcast live and document the eclipse for people inside the stadium and around the world.

The stadium was sold out, and 14,000 people packed inside to witness the astronomical phenomenon. When eclipse totality began, some were brought to tears and many cheered even with a cloud threatening to block most of the view.

“This is game day,” said Lou Mayo. “This is the day we’ve all been working for for about three years.”

Even a cloud in the sky wouldn’t bring Mayo down.

“Oh my goodness. This is my first total solar eclipse,” Mayo said. The planetary scientist with NASA has spent most of his life with his head in the stars. Like many of the thousands of visitors there, he had never seen a total solar eclipse before.

But he’d heard about them.

“They tell me it’s life changing. Wow,” Mayo said.

He and his crews experienced the eclipse, but they were also working to study it in Carbondale and across the country. Mayo said they’re hoping the research and data they collect during the eclipse can answer questions about the sun and space that have long confounded scientists.

“Why in the corona, as you move further and further away from the sun, it gets hotter and hotter. It doesn’t make any sense,” Mayo said. “But one of the things we’re hoping to do is view the lower corona, and get some data on what’s happening —the temperatures, and maybe some of the flow velocities, and the plasma there. So, that will be exciting, if we can add a little information to that mystery.”

As totality neared, he lent his voice to the crowd cheering away the clouds. He and thousands of others anxiously waited for the clouds to clear up and the sky to go dark, revealing the 360-degree sunset above and planets suddenly visible to the eye.

In that moment, the science and data would wait.

Then, totality.

“There are a lot of things in life that you can anticipate, you can imagine, think about. But you don’t really know what it’s about, you don’t really have that full experience, until that happens,” Mayo said.

Many of the research groups Monday aren’t done even though the eclipse is over. Now, they can begin studying the the data collected to get a more in-depth look at the sun than ever before.

Researchers with Citizen CATE will compile their telescopes data images from each of the telescope sites placed around the country. That video will be compiled to create a 90-minute video on the eclipse to help researchers better study the sun’s corona.

Mayo said they’re hoping projects like the ones they conducted during the eclipse will help provide needed answers about the sun and better prepare them for the next solar eclipse.

Visitors from more than 40 states and 10 countries gathered in Saluki Stadium for the eclipse.

With another eclipse set to cross Carbondale in 2024, SIUC and community leaders hope to learn from 2017’s event to provide an even better eclipse experience for visitors seven years down the road.

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