Earlier this month, Ron and Linda Matson made a scouting trip to Nebraska to find the perfect spot for when the sun goes dark.
They found a high point near McCool Junction, population 372, about 5 miles south of Interstate 80 in southeast Nebraska. As far as Ron Matson knows, no events are planned there, which is exactly what he wanted.
“We are going to be out in the middle of Nebraska cornfields,” said Matson, dean of Wichita State University’s Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We didn’t want to get caught up in a mass event, although I don’t know if that’s actually possible with this type of event.”
“This type of event” is the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21. South-central Kansans can see a partial eclipse at home. But if you want the full experience, you have to go north to the path of totality.
Matson plans to drive his wife and their four grandchildren, ages 12 to 17, the 200 miles directly north of Wichita to McCool Junction the morning of the eclipse. The sun will be partially blocked there beginning at 11:35 a.m. The total eclipse will begin at 1 p.m. and last 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
They have purchased glasses to safely view the partial phase and T-shirts to commemorate the event, and they’ll pack chairs, bug spray, sunscreen and a cooler with plenty of food and drinks.
A self-professed science geek, Matson said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse so close to home and to create an unforgettable memory with his grandchildren.
“People who write about it say it’s one of the most powerful things you can experience,” he said. “We are looking forward to bonding with our grandkids and having an extraordinary experience. I’m calling us Team Totality.”
Total solar eclipses happen once a year, but this year’s is rare because of its accessibility. Often total eclipses occur over oceans or in remote locations. This one is coast-to-coast in the United States, which hasn’t happened since 1918 and won’t happen again until 2045.
All of North America will see, weather permitting, a two- to three-hour partial eclipse – when the moon passes in front of the sun, off center, blocking a portion of the sun’s disk. Those in Wichita can see a peak of 92.57 percent totality.
Halfway through the event, anyone within a 70-mile-wide path arcing 3,000 miles from Oregon to South Carolina will see 100 percent, a phenomenon that occurs when the moon completely blocks the sun.
That path of totality spans 14 states. It cuts across 41.5 miles in the northeast corner of Kansas and spans Missouri and Nebraska. These states benefit from having the total eclipse close to midday, when the sun will be near its highest point.
The closer to the centerline of that path, the longer the total eclipse will last. The longest duration nationally is 2 minutes and 42 seconds in Carbondale, Ill. In Kansas and the surrounding states, you’ll find locations with a duration as long as 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
‘The only chance’
Retirees Karl and Nancy Koenig will be among the 100 passengers on two tour buses leaving Wichita at 6:30 a.m. Aug. 21 to see the total eclipse in St. Joseph, Missouri, a city of 90,000 residents about 50 miles north of Kansas City.
The first bus offered by Wichita State’s Office for Workforce, Professional and Community Education filled up within 24 hours. When a second bus was added, tickets for the $109 per person trip sold out within three hours. The Koenigs had planned to travel to see the eclipse – they just hadn’t worked out the details yet. They signed up within 15 minutes of receiving the email about the WSU trip.
“We’re both in our early 70s and this is the only chance we are going to get to see a total solar eclipse in our lifetime,” Nancy Koenig said. “We feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say we were there in the path of totality.”
The bus is taking passengers to Rosecrans Memorial Airport, where Michael Bakich, a senior editor for Astronomy magazine, is staging an eclipse-watching event expected to draw a capacity crowd of 30,000. Amateur and professional astronomers will be on hand with high-powered, safely filtered telescopes and commentary by Bakich will be broadcast on local radio. WSU participants will have a personal guide for the trip: WSU alumnus Caleb Gimar, a former NASA intern and current space science educator at the Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum in Hutchinson.
St. Joseph, approximately 215 miles from Wichita, expects anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 visitors for the eclipse. The partial phase begins there at 11:40 a.m. and ends at 2:34 p.m., with the total eclipse beginning at 1:06 p.m. and ending 2 minutes and 38 seconds later.
Radios and cameras
Jim Meyer and Joe Pajor are driving to Atchison, about 200 miles northeast of Wichita, as members of the Wichita Amateur Radio Club, an affiliate of the American Radio Relay League.
Pajor, deputy director of public works for the city of Wichita, is planning to set up four radios in the press box of the stadium at Benedictine College. Meyer, a professional photographer, will help Pajor manage the radios and also will set up cameras on the roof of the press box.
Throughout the eclipse, the two will make two-way radio contacts with other amateur radio operators across the country and around the world.
As citizen scientists, they will produce contact logs to be given to atmospheric scientists at Virginia Tech conducting a research study on this event. These logs will provide data on the effects the eclipse has on radio wave propagation through all stages of the eclipse.
This will help scientists better predict how space weather might affect technologies like global positioning systems, long-range radio communications with aircraft crossing oceans and the reliability of the electric grid.
“I mainly want to experience the event and be productive at the same time,” said Meyer, who has yet to see a total eclipse. “I plan to set up three cameras: one for a time lapse series, one for close shots of the eclipse during all stages and a third to capture what I can of the other people at the site to capture their reactions.”
Atchison, a city of about 11,000 residents along the Missouri River, will experience 2 minutes and 19 seconds of total eclipse at 1:06 p.m. The sun will be partially blocked beginning at 11:40 a.m.
The city expects as many as 35,000 visitors and has activities planned at Benedictine College, the Mount St. Scholastica Convent and the Amelia Earhart Airport. Some are ticketed events; go to visitatchison.com for more information.
‘So rare and so strange’
Wichitans Doug Oliver and Deb Rix plan to make a weekend of their eclipse-viewing road trip to Hiawatha, which is 18 miles south of the Nebraska state line and 40 miles west of the Missouri border.
Rix’s mother is joining them, and they’ll go a day early to explore the Flint Hills and stay overnight in Manhattan near Aggieville, the college town’s shopping and entertainment district. Oliver said hotels there were reasonably priced whereas roadside motels near Hiawatha were charging as much as $500 a night. On Monday, they plan to get an early start to Hiawatha to avoid traffic and find an ideal spot for their lawn chairs.
With a population of about 3,000, Hiawatha is the largest city and county seat of Brown County. The city is expecting as many as 20,000 to attend its Brown County Blackout, a number that surprised Oliver.
“We’re so close to the path of totality, we have to go,” he said. “I knew the Kansas City area would be too crazy so I started looking at little towns. I found the Brown County Blackout on Facebook. It looked fun and they were very active on Facebook so we started making plans. I figured nobody else would be out in the cornfields, but lo and behold.”
Most of the festivities are happening between the community center and Noble Ball Park, including a presentation by an engineer from NASA’s Greenbelt Space Flight Center in Maryland, live music, a beer garden, a craft and vendor fair, face painting and inflatables. Local businesses and organizations will be selling souvenirs and food throughout the day.
They plan to be in place when the partial phase starts at 11:34 a.m. Totality in Hiawatha will last 2 minutes and 34 seconds starting at 1:05 p.m.
“I think everyone should consider going because it’s so rare and so strange, having night in the middle of day,” Rix said. “It really is going to be once-in-a-lifetime for many of us.”
Tips for viewing the total eclipse
▪ Take plenty of water and snacks, enough for what could be a long wait in the vehicle getting to and from the viewing location as well as the time you’ll spend there.
▪ Travel with any prescription medicine you take.
▪ Fill your vehicle with fuel before getting to your viewing destination.
▪ Apply and reapply sunscreen. Bring an umbrella or shade canopy.
▪ Buy eclipse glasses with lenses of optical Mylar. The only time it’s safe to look at an eclipse without proper eye protection (sunglasses are not safe) is during the brief period of totality. This applies when looking through a camera, telescope or binoculars.
▪ Don’t try to photograph the total eclipse. No picture will capture what your eyes will see so use the few minutes you’ll have to simply watch the phenomenon.