Ezzy's US Eclipse: the thick of it

BBC Sky at Night Magazine news editor Elizabeth Pearson is on the road trip of lifetime, making her way across the US to view the total solar eclipse.

On the fourth day of her trip, Ezzy finds herself in the middle of an astro convention, surrounded by like-minded eclipse chasers.

Keep up to date with Ezzy's US eclipse exploits via her personal Twitter account and BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Twitter account.

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Ezzy hits ASTROCON in Casper, Wyoming, where the eclipse is all anyone can talk about!
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

Ezzy's US eclipse: Day 4

Yesterday I saw signs that I was entering Eclipse Central, and today those signs were hammered home when I visited ASTROCON 2017 in Casper, Wyoming.

The annual convention run by the Astronomical League was organised this year to coincide with the eclipse, and the celestial event was certainly on everyone's lips. 

It was the first time since I arrived in the US that I've been completely surrounded by eclipse enthusiasts.

All around people were sharing their images of their previous sightings, or discussing their hopes of what they would be able to see this time.

 

Carroll Iorg (left) and Lowell Lyon (right) welcome excited astronomers to an eclipse-focussed ASTROCON 2017, some four years in the making.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

This congregation of such a large group of space lovers was a long time in planning for the league, who first started scoping out locations back in 2013.  

"This has been a four year effort. We looked along the eclipse path and settled on Casper, which is a city of 50,000 people," says convention coordinator Carroll Iorg.

"The city was very gracious, but like most communities it took them a while to realise that this was going to happen and for that one day, the city's population could double." 

The convention has been one of the league's most successful ever, with people from all over the world coming to attend the event. 

"We opened up the official online registration and the flood gates opened. And we were watching the ticker and wondering 'when are we going to shut this off? Only so many people will fit in this hotel'," says Lyon. 

Even with quadruple the usual registrations available, the League had to close ticket sales a year early, due to the enormous demand. But for those who made it before the cut off, the event will be all the more special for being able to share it with so many fellow space fans.

"The minute the Sun is covered by the Moon, I predict you are going to hear this monsterous cheer, these screams like you haven't heard before," says Lyon.

"Some people who are in, say, Salt Lake City think 'well it's 90 per cent coverage, that'll do'. I say think about football. You've got a quarterback who needs to make a 10 yard to make a touchdown. If you only go 90 per cent of the way, 9 yards, you don't get the touchdown. I'm glad so many people are going to get to see totality."

However, the expected influx of people means that the city has also had to spend several years planning for the event to make sure they can cope with the sudden doubling of their population.

 

Casper Wyoming is just one US city making the most of the total solar eclipse, with locals and tourists alike getting involved.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

This influx brings its own set of problems, and dealing with these problems is the job of Anna Wilcox, executive director of the Wyoming Eclipse Festival

"The first challenge was convincing people that this is really happening and that this many people are really coming," says Wilcox, who had the job of organising the city's efforts during the eclipse. 

"We literally walked into every business in Casper - whether an orthopaedic surgeon, an eye doctor or a hotel - and told them what they needed to do, from ordering in more supplies to make sure their staff were aware of what was going on," says Wilcox. 

But as well as making sure everything was in place for the visitors, it was also important to make sure that the locals knew what was coming.

"There aren't a lot of people in Wyoming, and most people in Wyoming like it that way. But something like this comes with opportunity," says Wilcox.

"There has been an economic decline in this area in the past couple of years, and I think a lot of people are embracing this and looking at it as a positive. There's a lot of people talking about Casper, Wyoming that never knew about it before."

"People understand that there are going to be some inconveniences, whether its traffic, longer lines or making sure the car has gas. But most people are looking at it as a positive. The people who aren't 100 per cent down with it always have the opportunity to stay home, or plan around it."

One of the groups that has been helping get the word out is the Casper Planetarium. The building was set up in 1966, initially to help get people enthusiastic about the Apollo programme, and has been educating people about space ever since.

 

Casper Planetarium, like many across the US, is helping get the word out.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

"Most of what we've done has been here in the local community," says Ron Kennedy, the Planetarium's director.

"There's two classes of people. There are some people who are really enthusiastic about it, because it's a once in a life time event. Then there's the other group who are wondering 'why are you coming here? Why are you invading our community? We don't want you here'. It's mostly because they see it as an inconvenience. I think there's more who are really excited about it."

Though there are definitely some people who are worried, it does seem to be the case that the general air is one of excitement. I can't speak for the people of Casper, but this eclipse chaser is certainly starting to get excited.

 

Elizabeth Pearson is travelling with Hertz Roadtrippers.

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