A College Town Gets Ready for Its Moment Under No Sun

During a visit in May, she stood near the football field’s 10-yard line and looked up at the cloudless plot of blue above the bleachers where she plans to point her telescope.

“I feel like I’ll be lost observing and then forget to take the data,” she said. “It’s supposed to be such an emotional experience that part of you has to be in check enough to say: ‘Don’t think about it now. Do the work, do the work, do the work.’”

Dr. Yanamandra-Fisher will join other scientists here hoping to glean from the eclipse tantalizing insight into the sun’s mysteries.

As the eclipse nears, Carbondale is hard at work preparing for them and the tens of thousands more expected for a celestial Super Bowl.

‘This Isn’t a Choice’

Three years ago, Bob Baer, a staff member at the university’s physics department, learned of Carbondale’s cosmic destiny: The city is near what NASA calls “the point of greatest duration.”

It will experience “totality” — when the moon completely overshadows the sun — for longer than almost anywhere else: a majestic 2 minutes 38 seconds. That alone would propel any town to nerd stardom, but Carbondale is exceptional. It also lies within the line of totality for America’s next total solar eclipse, on April 8, 2024.

Mr. Baer has played a central role in preparing the university for its moment under no sun. “My main pitch was, ‘This isn’t a choice,’” he said. “We’ve got a dot on a map and a crossroads on a map, so everybody’s looking at us. They’re going to come here no matter what.”

Where Two Total Eclipses Will Be Visible

Coordinating public outreach for one of the most popular astronomical events of the century would be a major undertaking for any university. But for one without an astronomy department, it appeared particularly daunting.

So Mr. Baer and his colleagues teamed up with NASA, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the National Solar Observatory in Boulder. With the support of those institutions, they plan to entertain and educate thousands of visitors, while ensuring that scientists can take full advantage of a rare opportunity.

From $25 seats in the stadium, which holds 15,000 people, attendees will watch a NASA eclipse…

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