How to safely watch a solar eclipse
Hopkinsville won the solar lottery.
Call the little Western Kentucky town the Churchill Downs of the solar eclipse. Hopkinsville’s time outside the sun during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse will last two minutes, 40 seconds, giving the expected 50,000 visitors the best view of the eclipse for the longest time.
The event is the culmination of the solar Big Dance of the sun, moon and earth, and it will be the first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in 38 years. But really, it’s the first eclipse that will be widely seen in 47 years.
The Map of Totality, which sounds like something from a Marvel movie, identified the area around Hopkinsville and the Land Between the Lakes as primo sites to experience the eclipse.
Eclipse totalities are various lengths, which is one reason Hopkinsville was blessed: It has a lengthy totality, meaning you’ll really be able to enjoy the “diamond ring” effect of seeing the moon’s shadow and the sun’s corona and the lovely twilight during the eclipse time.
Hopkinsville — #Eclipseville — is preparing meticulously for the chance to rake in tens of millions of tourist dollars, planning traffic patterns and considering whether to involve the Kentucky State Police or National Guard for crowd control. The level of planning goes right down to working with local utilities to make sure street lights don’t come on automatically during the eclipse semidarkness.
Of course you can go online and buy souvenirs, because who doesn’t need a silky gray polo shirt to remember the moment? A glass etcher is working on souvenir tumblers. The town is creating camping villages with portable showers and restrooms. It’s bringing in food vendors and scheduling shuttles.
Why all the hubbub? Because for Hopkinsville, the coming eclipse is as big as for the astronomically minded as a combination of the Super Bowl, an English royal wedding and a moon walk.
“It’s not something you request,” said Brooke Jung, who holds the title of solar eclipse marketing and events consultant for Hopkinsville and Christian County. “We’re so lucky with the timing of it all, and the way it’s come together.
“Of all the cities along the path of totality, we have the most events planned.”
But then, Hopkinsville already has some practice with extraterrestrial phenomena. In 1955 — on Aug 21, the same day as the 2017 eclipse — there occurred a claimed close encounter near Kelly and Hopkinsville in Christian County.
Five adults and seven children arrived at a local police station claiming that small alien creatures from a spaceship were attacking their farmhouse and being fought off by gunfire. Police found evidence of gunfire, but not of aliens. Some skeptics claimed that the “aliens” were probably great horned owls.
The event is nonetheless a celebration in Kelly each August, with the Kelly “Little Green Men” Days.
You can check out a nationwide Map on Totality online. The viewing area for the eclipse cuts through the lower 48 states beginning south of Portland and traces an arc through pieces of Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri and Tennessee, following a southeastern path down to South Carolina and out to the Atlantic. It runs straight through Nashville.
And if Aug. 21 turns out to have miserable weather, try to keep your sense of humor. Eclipse hobbyists — yes, they exist — insist that there will be good things to see, but only with your eye-protecting eclipse glasses.
That’s why you can call Hopkinsville, population 32,000, not its traditional nickname of “Hoptown,” but rather “Eclipseville.” The city is even going to paint a mural on a brick building announcing its new nickname.
Campsites and cabins at nearby Land Between the Lakes are all already reserved, but basic camping is available, public affairs specialist Janice Wilson said. The park also set aside some space for walk-in sites. Campers are urged to go online and get a permit in advance; each camper 18 and older will need one.
The Land Between the Lakes considers itself “a bedroom community” for the surrounding eclipse area, Wilson said.
“We are not trying to distract or take away from any other community in terms of events or activities,” Wilson said. “We’re not trying to be ‘the event.’ ... We have 170,000 acres, and a lot of it is open to the sky.”
At a glance
So, what’s going on?
A solar eclipse is a lineup of the sun, the moon and the earth. An area in the dark part of the moon’s shadow will see a total eclipse. It’s a great natural light show, and you have to have special protective glasses to look at it lest your eyes be harmed (don’t ignore this part to show how daring you are, because the glasses are absolutely essential and dirt cheap).
How can you reserve your spot for Eclipse 2017?
In Hopkinsville, contact hotels individually. You won’t be able to register via Internet hotel aggregation sites.
Land Between the Lakes: Reservations are being accepted for Aug. 14 to 23. Reservations will be accepted at Energy Lake, Hillman Ferry, Piney and Wranglers campgrounds.
How long does the eclipse go on?
The “totality” lasts for 2 minutes, 40 seconds. It starts at 1:24:39 p.m. CDT, Aug. 21.
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