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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Solar eclipse attracts thousands to visit Columbia

MU astrophysics and general relativity graduate student Sean Baldridge: “While eclipses are common, having a path of totality cross over your house is what is rare. We just got lucky here in Columbia.”

A small crowd gathers at the top of a rock bluff in Capen Park to wait for the solar eclipse.

Lane Burdette/Staff Photographer

Zoe Rich, left, and Nick Sondermann, right, gaze at the eclipse through Mizzou solar eclipse glasses.

Kate Seaman/Staff Photographer

On Monday, people from all across the country drove, flew or bussed to one of many towns on a small line known as the “path of totality.” They crossed their fingers for clear skies and prayed they wouldn’t go blind from the experience. The solar eclipse of 2017 brought people from all over the nation together to wear filtered cardboard glasses and watch the moon cover the sun for two minutes.

Columbia, Missouri, was one of these towns that attracted a ton of foot traffic. Students, alumni and strangers alike filled the streets, climbed to rooftops and surrounded the Columns to watch the total eclipse that the town had been anticipating for years.

“Finding a site where there is a total eclipse, opposed to a partial, is something which has no equal in terms of astronomical spectacle,” MU astrophysics graduate student Sean Baldridge said. “Seeing an eclipse even at 99 percent doesn't compare to totality.”

There is an assumption that total solar eclipses are rare, but in reality, they happen nearly every year and a half. The last one visible from the U.S. was in 1991, though it could only be seen from the edge of Hawaii. There were also total eclipses visible from corners of the country in 1979, 1970, 1963 and many other years past. But, with paths of totality over the Atlantic or in the middle of a less populated country, they don’t garner a lot of attention.

“While eclipses are common, having a path of totality cross over your house is what is rare,” Baldridge said. “We just got lucky here in Columbia.”

The eclipse of 2017 had a path of totality stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. The U.S. hadn’t seen this much totality since 1918, while the state of Missouri hadn’t seen any totality since 1869.

Local businesses took advantage of the eclipse as a chance to attract customers. Harpo’s opened just for the eclipse with special deals.

“We worked with a lot of promoters,” Harpo’s general manager Marina Spadarotto said. “A main one was Blue Moon because we were trying to incorporate the moon and eclipse.”

The bar had deals on Blue Moon, mimosas and Bloody Marys, along with bottles of champagne for those who reserved tables.

Other businesses such as Shakespeare’s Pizza got into the eclipse spirit without any special deals.

“We sold eclipse T-shirts and glasses, but we were sold out by the time the eclipse came,” General Manager Cara Giessing said.

According to NASA, the next solar eclipse to hit the United States will take place on April 8, 2024. The path of totality will go through the bootheel of Missouri.

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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