Total solar eclipse 2017 and aliens in western Kentucky

The point of greatest eclipse for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017 is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. That fact caused Cheryl Cook’s telephone to start ringing ten years ago. Cook is the executive director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Eclipse Hopkinsville“It’s just going to be huge,” Cook said. “We felt like this is a gift given to us, because we’ll have, from what we’ve been told, so many people coming to our community, and it’s our time to really show off what we do best.”

Oddly enough, Hopkinsville was the site of another interesting event on August 21 in 1955, when there was a reported close encounter with a UFO and aliens.

“When we found out the eclipse is going to be on the same day, is that not kind of eerie in a little way?” Cook asked. “I like to laugh and say that they came early to pick out their spot to watch the eclipse.”

Extraterrestrials and other visitors to Hopkinsville next August will be able to enjoy the annual Little Green Men Days festival to celebrate the UFO encounter. In addition to the eclipse, Cook says the area will have its annual Summer Salute festival and Cattleman’s Rodeo on eclipse weekend, area distilleries will be doing special bottlings, and music festivals will abound.

“There should be something for everyone,” Cook said.

WKU out on the edge

About 55 miles to the east of Hopkinsville, Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green is also making plans. Gordon Emslie, a professor of physics and astronomy at the university, says they expect a lot of visitors because Bowling Green is right on I-65, which will likely bring thousands of eclipse watchers in from Louisville, Indianapolis, and other points north.

Emslie said the university’s 780-acre farm on the outskirts of town will be a primary viewing spot.

Eclipse WKU“There will be some balloon launch experiments from that farm location to carry balloons with cameras up so they can take pictures of the eclipse from above the eclipse path and see the Moon’s shadow as it appears from a high altitude,” he said.

WKU will also open up its football stadium for viewing the eclipse. Emslie said they had a trial run of that in 2012 with the Venus transit. They passed out eclipse glasses and had lots of information about the event.

Citizen CATE

The university is one of the participants in Citizen CATE (Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment), a project that hopes to observe and shoot video of the corona of the Sun from 60 locations across the country during the eclipse.

“Doing what I call Photoshop on steroids, you’ll be able to synthesize these images taken from across the eclipse path into a continuous movie of a solar eclipse for 90 minutes, which no one has ever seen before,” Emslie said. “It’s the first possible attempt to do this. It’s remarkable.”

Southern Illinois University is also a participant, as noted in our eclipse preview article about Carbondale, Illinois.

Why Kentucky for the eclipse?

Interestingly, Cook and Emslie have different takes on the best reasons for heading to Kentucky to see the eclipse. Cook touts Hopkinsville’s location at the point of greatest eclipse, as well as the aforementioned activities, and other attractions such as the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park. Emslie likes the notion that Bowling Green and WKU are closer to the edge of the path of totality.

“We therefore get to see the Sun not completely centrally obscured,” he explained. “The Moon is slightly to one side of the Sun’s disk. Therefore at the other side you get to see some of the near solar-surface phenomena; the chromosphere, the loops, the spicules, the prominences.”

“These can be visible to the naked eye without the glasses on during the period of totality,” Emslie added. He noted that there are different definitions of “best,” and while most everyone in the country should be able to see a partial solar eclipse in August 2017, it is worth it to find a way to see the total show.

“Until you’ve experienced a total solar eclipse, it’s just not possible to describe,” Emslie said. “The variety of experiences that happen during the brief couple of minutes of totality are so unusual.”

Room at the inn

While Emslie’s impression was that hotel rooms in Hopkinsville have been booked for some time, Cook said that there are some 10,000 rooms within an hour of the town, and many don’t make reservations for more than a year out. She added that there is a lot of camping available in the region as well.

Emslie told a story of booking a room more than a year in advance for a total eclipse near Paris in 1999. The innkeeper told him that, as the date of the eclipse approached, she was getting offers for as much as ten times the usual rate for the rooms. Emslie said that’s not unusual.

“Most communities don’t realize this will happen until it’s almost upon them, and then the pressure gets very significant to accommodate the sudden demand for accommodations, for food, and for travel,” he said.

Our podcast with Emslie and Cook: