We booked our hotel late, as in a couple months ago. The closest, in fact, the only room we could find was at a Best Western in Paducah, Kentucky, for nearly $400 a night.
Every hotel in Southern Illinois was booked solid. Carbondale, Illinois, home of Southern Illinois University is one of the big beneficiaries.
This roughly 25,000-person college town in southern Illinois will become shrouded in total darkness for as long as two minutes and 40 seconds during Monday’s solar eclipse, longer than almost any other location in the country.
But for Carbondale city administrators who have been preparing for the phenomenon since last summer, the eclipse is as much an opportunity to boost the city’s faltering university-based economy as it is a chance to view a cosmic light show.
Carbondale’s population is expected to double Monday as astronomers, NASA scientists, curiosity-seekers, students of all ages and international media trek here for an event that could generate $8 million in local economic activity, according to city estimates. Carbondale businesses generate about $600 million annually in economic activity, according to the city.
The town’s moment in the blocked-out sun couldn’t come at a better time.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the city’s largest employer, has seen funding delays in recent years as a result of a record-breaking state budget stalemate in Springfield.
Carbondale normally relies on each student to generate $10,000 annually in local economic activity, said Mayor John “Mike” Henry, but dwindling student enrollment has cost the city about $50 million a year. Drugs and crime in pockets of the community have stretched local police and social services.
“Right at the beginning, we said, ‘We cannot fail at this,’” Mr. Henry said. “We’re going to overplan. We’re going to overspend. We’re going to do everything possible so that every single person has the best experience that they can have.”
Mr. Henry expedited the first phase of an expansive downtown-revitalization effort, spending about $1.75 million to tear up sidewalks, unify the streetscape, update public parking and improve street lighting.
In an effort to produce the “best experience” for everyone I can tell you the police were out en masse. I have never seen so many Illinois state troopers in my entire life.
In one 20 mile stretch on I-24 between the I-57/I-24 junction and Paducah, we saw seven unmarked cars with drivers pulled over. How many cars still in hiding is unknown.
This is big business for sure. Police and hotels shared the wealth. What effect this has on future Illinois tourism remains to be seen. But like world fairs and Olympics, I expect the benefits to be muted, if not negative, in relation to the amount of money spent in preparation.
I grabbed the shot of part of my eclipse setup moments ago. The above image is not color corrected or sharpened in my typical fashion. I decided at the last-minute to do this article.
I have two cameras, two tripods, and computer-controlled software to fire my camera at the right time (hopefully), based on GPS positioning or longitude, latitude, and altitude at a site I selected on Sunday at Fern Cliffe State Park in Goreville, Illinois.
Note the black tape on the focusing ring. A few nights ago I focused on the full moon and taped the focusing ring in place. I am using mirror lockup to damp camera vibrations and will be bracketing like mad.
I have two cables from my camera to a computer via a USB to Com port setup to trigger shots at specified ISOs and shutter speeds, all programmed in advance, based on research of likely exposures needed. One cable fires the shutter, the other controls ISO and exposure.
I spent at least 60 hours testing my script and getting everything to run.
Minor League vs Major League
If that seems like a massive amount of work, I would agree. But I will also tell you it is minor league.
Here is an image clip.
I believe that attached to their massive telescope setup is the same lens and camera I am using. As in attached, I mean physically attached. When the telescope moves so does the Canon camera.
They have six hands to make last second adjustments. They also have tracking mounts that automatically move at the speed the sun is moving in the sky.
People come from all over the world thinking they will get good images. Realistically, they do not have a chance.
I hope to get one reasonable image. I may devote one camera to video. I still have not decided. If I do, the video will be wide angle because the sun is so high in the sky for this eclipse.
This entire exercise may be for naught, for everyone. Clouds can ruin everything. Even if it is sunny there are a thousand other things that can easily go wrong.
However, I found what I think is the perfect spot. I will be there at 7:00 AM or so to claim it.
Wish me luck. I will post results – what went right – and wrong within a few days or so. NASA will be much faster, I am sure.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock