Jackson, Wyoming is cooking up a five-day festival to celebrate the total solar eclipse that will pass through town in August 2017. The nonprofit organization Wyoming Stargazing is at the center of the preparations. Its founder and executive director, Samuel Singer, says they’ll be doing several private viewing events, plus a big public party at the Jackson Center for the Arts. The center will also host a science and arts festival with events for several days before and after the eclipse.
Singer said the weather prospects for eclipse viewing in Jackson are good. While they often have afternoon thunderstorms, last summer they only had to cancel a small handful of their stargazing events.
“Typically we don’t have any cloud cover in the late morning/early afternoon, so there’s a good possibility that it’s going to be clear that morning for the eclipse,” Singer said, “but you just never know.”
In the event of bad weather they have a fail-safe option. Wyoming Stargazing is working with Teton Gravity Research, a company that makes extreme films of skiing and snowboarding. Their helicopter has a camera that will capture the eclipse.
“If it is cloudy, they’ll have the capability of projecting a real-time image down to the ground on a really big screen at the Center for the Arts,” Singer said.
“A lot of people are planning their driving routes out of the valley the night before if it looks like it’s going to be cloudy that morning,” he noted, “but Wyoming Stargazing is going to stick it out and we’re going to make the most of whatever happens.”
Jackson is a major tourist area, attracting around 10,000 visitors on the average summer day. Singer said that figure may double, or more, for eclipse week.
“It may end up being the single biggest tourism day in Jackson Hole history,” he said. Given that, lodging may be a challenge. Many rooms are already taken, but a lot of hotels are holding out for bookings with large organizations, while others don’t take reservations for more than a year in advance.
“Housing is going to be tricky,” Singer said. “I think that it’s definitely going to be one of the limiting factors on how many people can actually stay here for the week of the eclipse.” He added that there are likely to be lodging opportunities in the communities within an hour or two of Jackson.
Singer admits to a little bias, but he thinks Jackson will be one of the best places to see the eclipse.
“Jackson is probably one of the most beautiful places in the entire country,” he said, noting its spectacular mountains, undeveloped areas, and teeming wildlife. “There are no other places in the country that you can go to, see the eclipse, and probably see bison, moose, elk, black bears, grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey, maybe some prong-horn antelope, and big-horn sheep.”
In other words, there’s a lot more to do than just watch the Sun disappear for a couple of minutes.
“There are lots of people who are traveling thousands and thousands of miles for those two minutes; in Jackson they can have a much bigger experience for their money,” Singer said.
Wyoming Stargazing is just three years old, but already is putting on about 200 observing events each year at resorts, schools, parks, and other venues. Conservation is also part of the organization’s mission.
“We’re working on preseving the dark night skies we have here in Jackson,” Singer said. “We’re really trying to provide some education for the community to help them understand why dark skies are important and what the adverse effects are of light pollution.”
They’re working with the public and the local city and county governments in trying to get good, dark-sky friendly lighting ordinances enacted.
“The long-term goal is to get Jackson recognized as a dark-sky community by the International Dark-sky Association, as well as to get Grand Teton National Park recognized as a dark-sky preserve,” Singer said. “The night skies are just the national parks above our heads, they’re part of the whole deal. It’s just another natural resource that needs to be protected. In Jackson, that’s kind of an easy sell because we have spent so much time and energy preserving the natural landscape, the views, the wildlife—and the dark night skies are just another part of what makes Grand Teton National Park so grand.”
Wyoming Stargazing also has big plans to build a state-of-the-art planetarium and observatory, which will house a one-meter telescope.
“I think it will be one of the largest instruments dedicated to public outreach anywhere,” Singer said. He hopes the project will be finished by the time of the eclipse, but expects it will probably take a little longer.
Singer has Northwest roots. He was bitten by the astronomy bug as a junior at Stadium High School in Tacoma, where he took an astronomy course from Mr. Jay Eastley. During his senior year the teacher encouraged Singer to build a Dobsonian telescope, and he was hooked.
Podcast of our interview with Samuel Singer of Wyoming Stargazing: