August 05, 2016

SIU planning ‘Eclipse 2017: One Year Countdown’

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- With a total solar eclipse a year away, officials at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are marking the occasion and using it as an opportunity to educate the public and new students on what to expect and how to get involved. 

The event, "Eclipse 2017: One Year Countdown," begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21, in the Student Center Auditorium. The evening will feature videos and a movie about eclipses, as well as information on the 2017 eclipse, followed by an invitation to night sky observations later that evening. 

The event is free and open to the public. More information about the event can be found here

SIU is gearing up to play a major role in the Aug. 21, 2017, eclipse, which will feature the first total solar eclipse over the mainland United States since 1979. The eclipse viewing path and shadow that day will sweep across the country from northwest to southeast, with its point of greatest duration a few miles south of Carbondale. Officials expect 30,000 to 50,000 people to descend on the area for the happening. The university’s planning, led by a campus-community committee, has been underway for more than a year. 

Not only that, but a second such event is due on April 8, 2024. The intersection of the two eclipse paths is just south of Carbondale over Cedar Lake. No other place in the world will offer the opportunity to observe these two eclipses from the same ground-based spot. 

Bob Baer, specialist with the Department of Physics and co-chair of the planning committee, said he hoped to organize the event for new SIU students who might not yet have heard about the upcoming eclipse. Students, Baer said, are key to ensuring the eclipse goes smoothly. 

“We are going to rely heavily on student volunteers and student workers for eclipse events in 2017,” Baer said. “This next event is meant to get these new students interested and hopefully identify a few interested in taking part in eclipse preparations over the next year.” 

Participants will hear from Saluki Astronomy Association President Sarah Kovac, a senior in physics, who will announce information about the club's first meeting and talk about how students and registered student organizations can get involved in the eclipse planning, Baer said. 

“We are hoping that several RSOs will take up an eclipse project and participate in the 2017 event,” he said. “We are developing programming for the large events in cooperation with NASA and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, but we also want student involvement in this process.” 

NASA’s webcast of the eclipse will originate from Saluki Stadium. 

Baer said the event this month also is aimed at members of the general public, who will receive updates on where the university and other entities stand on the planning process. 

The highlights of the event, however, are video-based. It starts with a 30-minute program produced by NASA Edge that previews the 2017 event at SIU and the region. NASA filmed the program in June when its personnel were on hand for a workshop on campus. That two-day event also brought a large crowd of eclipse enthusiasts out, Baer said. 

That video will be followed by a screening of “Chasing Shadows,” which profiles people who “chase” eclipses around the world. The movie, by Nelson Quan, documents an eclipse chaser’s journeys, Baer said. 

“It will give people an idea of what to expect here in Carbondale from the perspective of people who live to see the next eclipse,” he said. “We plan to have Nelson join us by Skype at the end of the movie to answer questions and provide comments.” 

Once the movie ends at about 8:30 p.m., participants will have the opportunity to join SIU sky-watchers on the observation area on the roof of the Neckers Building, just south of the Student Center. If the crowds are large, Baer said organizers also will have at least one other telescope set up on the ground near Neckers’ west entrance to handle the overflow. 

Those attending the observation portion of the event likely will get to see Saturn and Mars, as well as some deep-sky objects such as the Ring Nebula. 

“Mars is still relatively close to Earth and so you can see a little detail in it,” Baer said. “Saturn is tilted nicely right now so observers can see the rings well. The scopes we have on top of Neckers are very high quality and allow people to get great view of the night sky. We will also have volunteers on hand to explain to people what they are seeing.”