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Total solar eclipse is 90 days away: Here’s how cities in path are preparing

This photo shows a total solar eclipse. The contrast is so intense, it looks like it's in black and white.
Natchimuthuk Gopalswamy
/
NASA
During a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the Sun. When the eclipse reaches totality, the Sun's corona is visible by the naked eye. The reddish chromosphere is visible in this view of the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse from Madras, Oregon.

In just three months, a total solar eclipse will darken the skies over much of the United States, including parts western Kentucky, southern Illinois and southern Indiana.

During a total eclipse – like the one that will occur on April 8 – the moon passes between the Sun and Earth, darkening the sky. When the eclipse reaches totality – the point where the Sun and moon are in perfect alignment – the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere, can be seen by the naked eye.

In the U.S., the path of totality for this eclipse will span from Texas to Maine.

For many, witnessing a total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event. According to NASA, a single spot on Earth only gets to see a total solar eclipse, on average, once every 375 years. But, several cities that were in the path of totality for the August 2017 eclipse in Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky will once again experience the astronomical rarity this spring.

Kentucky counties calculated to be in the path of totality include McCracken, Ballard, Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Crittenden, Union, Webster and Henderson. Most of southern Illinois, including cities like Metropolis, Cairo and Carbondale, will also experience a total eclipse. Much of southern Indiana will also be in the path of totality.

Mary Hammond, executive director of the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the region is once again expecting an influx of tourists in the days leading up to and including the total eclipse.

“You have eclipse watchers that do travel internationally, they travel everywhere they can to see Eclipse,” Hammond said. “But then there's all of us [locally] that are just interested and want to see something that won't happen again [in Paducah], I don't think in our lifetime.”

Trish Steckenrider, executive director of the Greater Metropolis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotels in the southern Illinois city are already sold out for the weekend before the eclipse. Metropolis previously experienced a total eclipse in 2017, which Steckenrider said would help guide planning for this year’s event.

“We know that the visitors are coming in specifically for the eclipse. And so what we plan has to be something that's going to complement the timing of things that they need,” she said.

Both cities are planning events in the days leading up to the eclipse. Steckenrider said a speaker from NASA will be in Metropolis to break down the astronomical event and its significance. The southern Illinois city is also planning a street fair on the night prior to the eclipse, and setting up events at Dorothy Miller Park, along the Ohio River, on the day of the eclipse.

Paducah is also planning on hosting a two-day downtown street festival to mark the occasion, which will include several vendors, activities, food and crafts. However, Hammond said those in town for the eclipse will also have a chance to visit the rest of the far western Kentucky city’s attractions while awaiting the event.

“We have so much to see here in town, our arts, our culture, our heritage, that will fill up the rest of the time when people come and visit,” she said. “I think it'll make it an experience that people want to repeat here.”

According to NASA guidance, it is not safe to look directly into the Sun during an eclipse without special eye protection – except during the brief period of totality. Tools like eclipse glasses block out much more light than typical sunglasses and must meet certain international safety standards for safe, direct viewing of the Sun during the partial eclipse phases. Safety precautions are also recommended for those planning to take photos during the eclipse.

A total solar eclipse will not be visible in the continental United States again until 2044, according to NASA calculations.
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