Astronomical League headed for Casper for 2017 total solar eclipse

Casper, Wyoming promises to be a major destination for total solar eclipse watchers in August 2017. The weather prospects are good enough there that the Astronomical League decided several years ago to hold its annual convention, the ALCon, in Casper during the days leading up to the eclipse.

AstroCon2017“Downtown Casper is right on the centerline,” of the path of totality said John Goss, president of the Astronomical League. “Plus Casper does have some amenities.”

The league considered places like eastern Oregon, but found the smaller towns along the eclipse path didn’t really have accommodations to support a large gathering such as the ALCon. It will be a tight fit in Casper, a city of just more than 55,000 population.

“There are only so many hotels in the Casper area and the Astronomical League has special rates set up with three of them,” Goss said. Those rooms are all reserved, and the league continues to work to secure convention rates at more Casper hotels.

Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, will be the keynote speaker at the 2017 ALCon (see our article about his Seattle talk earlier this year). However the event won’t be entirely devoted to the total solar eclipse.

“We have room or slots for about 25 people to speak, so we’re going to have a wide range of topics that they’re going to cover,” Goss said. “The eclipse is a big deal, but that also means that it’s a dark-sky time for the month since the Moon is in the daytime. We want to make sure that people get some chances to go outside in the evening and get some observing done.”

Casper is at over 5,000 feet in elevation, and, given good weather, observing at night promises to be excellent.

“This is one ALCON in which we expect to have a big attendance, and it will be a lot of fun, too,” Goss said. He noted that Astronomical League people have visited Casper several times to meet with city officials.

Wyoming Eclipse Festival“Two years ago they were not knowledgeable at all about the eclipse,” he said. “They know about it now, and the whole town is planning for the big event.” The Wyoming Eclipse Festival will be held at the same time as the ALCon and will include camping, observing locations, and a variety of other activities.

Goss pointed out that while the total solar eclipse will follow a path across the country that is just 70 miles wide, the entire nation will be able to see a partial eclipse. It’s not the same, but it’s still a big deal, and one effort of the Astronomical League is to create materials for its member associations that are outside the path of totality to use in their outreach.

This year’s ALCon

With the growing anticipation about the total solar eclipse it is easy to look so far ahead as to miss what is right in front of you. The ALCon this year will be held August 10-13, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. The keynoter will be NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

John Goss

John Goss. Astronomical League photo.

“He is the top guy at NASA,” Goss said. “He’s the guy who reports to the president, he’s the guy who you want to speak to if you want to hear about the future of America’s space exploration and the future of NASA.”

Other scheduled activities include a behind-the-scenes look at the Goddard Space Flight Center and visits to the Smithsonian. Goss is especially excited for a tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

“You have to have an ‘in’ to be able to go in and see this place,” he said. “It’s full of history.”

About the Astronomical League

The Astronomical League is an umbrella organization of more than 240 astronomical societies across the United States. Membership has been growing and is currently at about 16,500, according to Goss. That’s down from a peak of about 17,500 in 2004 when they lost some members after a dues increase.

“What really got us was the beginning of the so-called great recession, and people were just cutting back all the way around,” Goss said. “That hurt us, but we’re coming back into it. I feel pretty good about it.”

Goss himself is an avid amateur astronomer and lived in western Washington at the time of the last total solar eclipse to hit the U.S. He watched the 1979 event from Yakima.

“It’s a great hobby,” Goss said of astronomy. “We want to emphasize to our members that they should get out and do some observing and enjoy the night sky.”

Podcast of our interview with John Goss: