The great state of Missouri offers many attractions to visitors. None, however, compare to the celestial spectacle of the upcoming total solar eclipse August 21, 2017. // All photos: Wikipedia
A while back, I had what I thought was a radical idea. But as I began to write about it, I realized that it makes perfect sense for a number of reasons — well, at least 10. Three years from now, on August 21, 2017, the United States will experience the biggest astronomical event in its history — a total eclipse of the Sun.
You think I’m kidding about that “biggest” proclamation? Then tell me something that topped it. Halley’s Comet? Not even close. In fact, it was a real disappointment to most people back in 1986 because it wasn’t all that close to Earth. A lunar eclipse? Been there, done that. A major meteor shower? Sorry, the number of people who will go out in the early morning hours pales in comparison to those who will see the upcoming eclipse during the daytime.
OK, well then what about past eclipses? Ha! Does anyone reading this actually remember the last total solar eclipse that covered any of the continental U.S.? It happened February 26, 1979, and it only clipped five states in the northwest — and many locations were cloudy. The previous “48 states” total solar eclipse, on March 7, 1970, again happened in only six states from Florida to Maryland.
In contrast, the 2017 total solar eclipse stretches west to east across the continental U.S. It first touches our border in Oregon and finally leaves via South Carolina.
And let’s compare the dates: February 26 and March 7 vs. August 21? Winter vs. summer. Hmm. I think I know which season’s weather will triumph in that tussle.
I also believe the 2017 event will be the most viewed eclipse in history. (In person, not on television — but probably there, too.) I base this on four factors: 1) the attention it will get from the media; 2) the superb coverage of the highway system in our country; 3) the typical weather on that date; and 4) the vast number of people who will have access to it from nearby large cities.
The July 22, 2009, total solar eclipse that traversed China had an opportunity to be the most viewed ever because of the massive numbers of people in cities in or near the path. Unfortunately, most of China was cloudy that day, and only a few locations saw it.
The bottom line is that I think Missouri should declare August 21, 2017, a state holiday, and I’m willing to back that statement up with 10 reasons. Please note: I chose Missouri because of the great memories I enjoy when I think of my time there. I spent nine of the best years of my life as planetarium director of the Kansas City Museum. I really think, however, that any state where totality occurs should take this action.
And states can do this. Each can declare holidays if it chooses to do so. That takes care of state employees. Private employers don’t have to follow suit, but I think many of them will. In fact, a “half-day off in the middle of the day” might be a great option for many of them. So, a week or so ago I wrote a short email to Missouri’s Governor Jay Nixon. Maybe after reading the rest of this blog, you will, too.
OK, then, without further ado, here are my 10 reasons. Feel free to add to them in the “Comments” section.
#1: Tourism/tax dollars will make up any lost revenue.
Please remember that August 21, 2017, is a Monday. That means many people will plan on staying in Missouri the entire weekend. And two cities — Columbia and Saint Joseph — will be the center of the universe for three long days. (I’ll be hosting an event in Saint Joseph, but more on that at a later date.)
#2: Most holidays are on a Monday anyway
With the exception of Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day, all federal holidays are observed on a Monday in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect January 1, 1971. Eclipse day serendipitously falls on the same weekday.
#3: This event is rare
The next total solar eclipse over the continental U.S. occurs April 8, 2024. After that, it’s a 20-year wait until August 23, 2044 (and, similar to the 1979 event, that one is visible only in Montana and North Dakota). Total solar eclipses follow in 2045 and 2078.
#4: This can be a one-time holiday
No need to make this an annual event. But it does need “holiday” status. Just making it some “special” day would be lame. Beyond lame. Transformers 4 lame.
#5: A government commitment shows science matters
Employers across this great nation are crying for more students entering scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields. Public events hosted by science groups and underwritten by corporations that were mere entertainment in years past now tend to have STEM components. And they’re popular.
#6: Nobody wants to miss this
We all should face the realization that, if totality will be visible anywhere near your location, people will find a way to see it. Vacation days. Sick leave. Insert other reason here.
#7: This will be a terrific educational opportunity
In the weeks and months leading up to this event, amateur astronomers across Missouri will partner with schools and educators to get the word out about the eclipse. They will conduct numerous public events, daytime “star” parties to show off our Sun, and lots and lots of teacher workshops.
#8: Having schools in session will seriously disrupt classes
Columbia, Missouri, is on the center line of the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. In that year, the University of Missouri’s fall semester starts August 21. Now, I’m not blaming planners for this coincidence. They didn’t know. But can you imagine how seriously this eclipse will disrupt classes? Students won’t sit inside while such a spectacular event occurs. Heck, professors won’t sit inside either. The great halls of learning at MU will contain only ghosts.
#9: Planning is underway now
Both the American Astronomical Society and the National Science Foundation already are hosting events leading up to August 21, 2017. (I’m speaking at an upcoming one in Columbia.) Groups from outside the country are booking space in American hotels that lie along the eclipse path. Yes, we’re three years out. But things tend to move slowly — especially in political circles. The time to start working on this is now!
#10: This event will happen
OK, let’s be honest. What’s the biggest thing the media and the general public holds against astronomers? It’s the uncertainty of many of the events we hold most dear. What uncertainty, you ask? Consider: “Comet science is an inexact art, but …” (ISON) “Many scientists who study meteor showers think this one may reach storm levels ...” (the Camelopardalids) “This event is super-cool. You will, however, require at least a medium-size telescope to view it ...” (supernova in M82)
Forget those. Forget all of them and every event like them. This solar eclipse will occur at the predicted time, in the predicted place, and for the predicted length. And although you don’t need to hear it from me, I absolutely stone-cold guarantee that everyone who sees it will remember it for the rest of their lives as the greatest thing they ever saw.
Now, c’mon Show Me State. Whaddya say? Make August 21, 2017, a state holiday. Show your workers some love, and I’ll show you a celestial spectacle you will never, ever forget.