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August's solar eclipse to bring large crowd to Columbia

August's solar eclipse to bring large...

COLUMBIA, Mo. - In anticipation of August's total solar eclipse, the city of Columbia will be hosting two viewing events as well as a number of other activities structured around the event.

The eclipse will last about 2 1/2 minutes, beginning at 1:12 p.m. on Aug. 21. The largest viewing event will be at Cosmo Park. People who attend will not only watch the event but will also be able to listen to live music and be involved in a number of activities on that day. 

True eclipse enthusiasts can experience the eclipse at Gans Nature Area, off Highway 63. 

Megan McConachie with the Convention and Visitors Bureau said that Gans is the location nearest the "ideal path for viewing totality."

"When it gets to about 90, 95 percent it will feel odd, kind of like early twilight but the sun is up there so it's a bit weird," said Dr. Angela Speck, the director of astronomy at the University of Missouri. "But then it goes from early twilight just a little bit dark, to full moon darkness in a matter of seconds."

People will even see stars and planets in the sky if its clear.

Speck said the darkness actually causes animals and plants to begin nighttime rituals. Speck said Thursday she's been preparing for this eclipse in some capacity for the past 15 years.

This is the first solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979.

"There's so much population that is also mobile and able to travel that this will be the most viewed celestial event ever," said Speck. "I think we're either going to double or quadruple the population of Columbia. We need to be ready."

Speck said it could be like True/False, Homecoming and Roots and Blues all rolled into one weekend. She even suggested residents get to the supermarkets early because many places will most likely be packed to bursting with people.

McConachie said the events are a way to take advantage of the anticipated crowds, and that the crowds will bring additional dollars into the city of Columbia.

"I think that it's something you can easily take for granted, that tourism has a really strong economic impact and it is a strong economic driver in our community," she said. "Visitors who come also pay the sales tax that goes to any number of things we enjoy throughout the year whether it's roads, public safety or other services the city provides for us. So that really comes full circle from us promoting a destination to people coming in and spending those funds."

Speck, who sits on a national committee that prepares for the eclipse, said she has been so involved in the planning, that she's ready to sit back and enjoy it. She does recommend not looking directly at the sun unless its eclipsed. She said people can get special solar eclipse glasses at the Mizzou bookstore.

Columbia Public Schools is making the eclipse a district wide event. It has purchased eclipse glasses for students and staff, encouraged students to bring their lunch for a district wide day and the students will be learning about solar science in class. 

"We have paid Mother Nature quite a bit of money to guarantee clear skies!" said K-12 science coordinator Mike Szydlowski. "Not really but I would if I could!"

For more information on Columbia's eclipse festivities, you can visit http://www.comoeclipse.com or for more information on the eclipse on a national level, you can find that at http://nationaleclipse.com.


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