Upcoming eclipse drawing local interest

The date of the total solar eclipse, Aug. 21, is fast approaching, as Monroe County residents scramble to find safety glasses and make plans for viewing the event.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s orbit aligns between the sun and the earth, creating a darkness similar to nighttime. Totality will occur at 1:17 p.m. in Monroe County.

This will be the first total solar eclipse spanning the nation since 1918, and first such eclipse to shadow the St. Louis area since the 1400s. All of Monroe County will be in the path of totality for this eclipse.

Southern Illinois will again be in the path of a total solar eclipse in 2024, although just the southern tip of Monroe County will be in the path of totality.

Here is an update on eclipse viewing events planned for this area:

Planning a “Solarbration” for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, the city of Waterloo and Explore Waterloo merchants group recently passed out a limited supply of safety viewing glasses, which had all but sold out by Tuesday.

About 2,000 glasses will still be available to those who attend the Aug. 21 event. Waterloo will enjoy two minutes and 10 seconds of the maximum two minutes and 40 seconds of totality.

The event should draw a crowd from across the country, as Waterloo made the Expedia Viewfinder travel blog’s national listing of “29 epic places to witness the 2017 solar eclipse” — one of just three towns in Illinois along with Carbondale and Makanda. Expedia put Waterloo on the list because of the inclusion of vendors, live music and artisan stands in its day-long event.

“After the sky darkens and the sunlight reemerges, praise those rays as you take a stroll around the historic district before road tripping home,” the website states. For the Expedia article, click here.

Sarah Deutch, Waterloo community relations coordinator, said she was shocked to see Waterloo as part of the Expedia article.

“It’s pretty cool and it might be why I’ve been getting calls from people from all over the country,” she said. “When you’re doing an event like this, you do as much promoting as you can because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Deutch added that Expedia incorrectly states there will be a panel of experts at the event. Rather, St. Louis radio personality Jon Grayson of KTRS will bring his knowledge of solar eclipses when he emcees the event ­— telling people when to put on and take off the glasses, describing the eclipse as it unfolds and the like.

Entry to the event is free. Live music will be performed by Brad Noe and special edition Explore Waterloo glow-in-the-dark t-shirts will be available for purchase. Go to facebook.com/WaterlooILSolarbration or call 939-8600, ext. 211 for more information.

The city of Columbia is hosting a “Total Eclipse in the Park” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 21 at Bolm-Schuhkraft Park, which will include food trucks.

The city will charge $1 for safety glasses, with a limited number available. Contact Sue Spargo, community relations and tourism coordinator, at 281-7144, ext. 134, for more information. Eclipse totality will be one minute and 49 seconds in Columbia.

Clifftop is hosting an event at the Paul Wightman Subterranean Nature Preserve near Fults, for which it has run out of reserved spots. Those lucky enough to take part in this event will see eclipse totality of two minutes and 31 seconds.

Local schools
To prepare for the experience, the Monroe-Randolph Regional Office of Education and First National Bank of Waterloo donated enough viewing glasses for every student and staff member in the public and private schools of Monroe County.

In the Columbia school district, high school and middle school students will gather at the multipurpose field for viewing. Parkview Elementary students will also watch the eclipse. However, Eagleview Elementary students who attend classes that day will not watch for their safety.

Waterloo Junior High School science teacher Deb Clinebell said a committee will help teachers plan events around the eclipse based on class subject.

Also at Waterloo schools, students will enjoy a sack lunch with treats that are “out of this world,” such as Solar Sliders or a Moon over My Hammy sandwich, Sunchips, Celestial Celery and the like.

“The solar event teaches us that there is much we do understand and know about our natural world, and we can make predictions through applied mathematics,” Clinebell said. “We can calculate when such natural events will occur and we can know exactly where the best viewing will be years in advance.”

At Valmeyer schools, each classroom teacher is planning activities for their class for the day of the eclipse and the days leading up to Aug. 21. Classes will be outside off and on to view the phases of the eclipse.

Safety tips
While an amazing educational and entertaining experience awaits on Aug. 21, experts continue voicing safety concerns.

“Looking at the sun without eclipse glasses or solar viewers can cause ‘eclipse blindness’ or retinal burns,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Illinois Department of Public Health Director. “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.”

Additionally, NASA reminds people to supervise children using the solar eclipse glasses; not to look at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or optical device while using eclipse glasses; to seek expert advice before using a solar filter with any optical device; and to remove the glasses only when the moon completely covers the sun.

The Illinois Department of Transportation included several items to consider as well, including planning where to view the eclipse, rather than stopping on the side of the road and interrupting traffic.

IDOT also says to anticipate increased pedestrian and bike traffic in popular viewing areas; not to wear special viewing glasses or take photos of the eclipse while driving; to drive with headlights on during the eclipse; and to use the Getting Around Illinois website for updates on traffic conditions at gettingaroundillinois.com.

IDOT created a special page at idot.illinois.gov to answer questions about the eclipse. To help with traffic flow, lane closures on major IDOT projects in southern Illinois will be temporarily lifted during the weekend before the eclipse and the following day.

Digital message boards throughout the state will be used to communicate traffic and safety messages. IDOT is also coordinating with Illinois State Police and local law enforcement to ensure traffic control points are appropriately staffed.

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