Next week’s total solar eclipse that will be visible in parts of Missouri is generating lots of excitement, as well as unique challenges for safety officials.
“Missouri is expecting anywhere between 300,000 and 1.2 million out of state guests. MoDOT has been working with a state-wide coalition of departments to prepare for this influx of people,” says Matt Hiebert, assistant communications director with the Missouri Department of Transportation.
In order to prepare for the massive amount of travelers seeking out a good spot to see the eclipse, MoDOT is preparing extra fleets of Motorist Assist Vehicles for the day.
“If someone is stranded on the side of the road and they’ve had a flat or run out of gas or something, we can get them out of the way to keep traffic running safely and smoothly.
Hiebert says the agency has taken extra measures to educate the community on traffic safety during the eclipse, and listed some precautions, such as taking pictures while driving.
“You know we all got smartphones with cameras now, and the impulse will be to try to get a shot of the eclipse – don’t do it while you’re driving!”
He also advises people to avoid stopping alongside the road during the eclipse, and to avoid overcrowded rest areas along major highways.
To understand the science behind the event, we spoke with Becky Baker, a professor at Missouri State University’s department for Physics, Astronomy, and Material Sciences.
“The moon is actually going to start moving between the Earth and the sun, and as that moon moves through there, what we’re going to start seeing is the solar disc being covered. Since that sun is projecting a shadow of the moon, then you’re going to see the shadow of the moon actually moving then across the United States."
While she says the total event will last approximately three hours as the moon crosses over the sun, the part where the moon covers the sun completely will only last about two minutes. When this happens, the sky will turn dark, the atmosphere will cool down, and birds will even start to sing night calls.
Baker also provided some safety tips for viewing the Eclipse
“You never want to go ahead and look directly at that sun, even sunglasses will not protect you.”
Eclipse glasses are a popular method for viewing the eclipse, but some providers now warn that they may be faulty. Amazon recently released a statement saying that many eclipse glasses they sold were defective, and would not be safe to view the eclipse with. Baker states that you should make sure your eclipse glasses are certified as safe, and check for pinpricks through the film.
Baker says not to worry though; there are other do-it-yourself ways to view the eclipse. You can make a pinpoint camera and reflect the eclipse on a piece of paper, or even use a common salty snack.
“You can even take a Ritz cracker, because Ritz crackers have holes in them, and use a Ritz cracker and then go ahead and project it on a piece of paper out in front.”
As far as the best viewing places seeing totality of the eclipse (in which parts of the sun’s atmosphere will be visible for a few minutes) means traveling northwards.
However, she and Hiebert advise to avoid doing so, with the heavy traffic expected by MoDOT. One are for local residents to watch is at Missouri State University’s Plaster Stadium, where you can view the eclipse at 96% totality. The first 11,000 people will receive free solar glasses to watch the eclipse safety. Additionally, there are many interactive events happening inside the stadium to celebrate.
“We just want to celebrate with the community what’s going on, and so there are activities for all different ages, from the little kids all the way up to the adults.”
Hiebert adds, “Find a safe location to view the event; there are literally hundreds of locations across the state being hosted by communities, towns, and cities. We’re asking people to find those events, arrive there early, stay put, and leave late, let traffic kind of filter out before you depart.