Total Eclipse, Texas Style

By Susan Bean Aycock

Buckle your starship seatbelts: This month, Waco starts the one-year countdown to a blowout extravaganza of events planned around a rare total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024. Science, art, culture and pure fun will collide as Waco steps into the spotlight as Texas’ prime location to view the last total solar eclipse of the century visible in these parts.

Why Waco? Waco’s location in the eclipse path offers 100% totality with visibility for over four minutes. National event partner, Lowell Observatory, chose Waco more than a year ago as the hub of Texas eclipse viewing because it’s the largest Texas city in the totality swath and has the best statistical chance for sunny weather. Event planners assure that the eclipse will still be visible if it’s overcast, just not as spectacular as in clear weather.

What happens in a total solar eclipse? The earth’s moon (to be specific which moon, since more than 200 confirmed moons orbit six major planets in our solar system) covers the sun and reveals the sun’s wispy corona. Roughly every six months, the new moon passes through one of two crossover points where the moon’s tilted orbit intersects the ecliptic
— the sun’s path around the sky as seen from Earth.

How rare is a total eclipse? Total solar eclipses are not particularly rare, but the same location won’t see eclipses very often. Total solar eclipses occur every year or two somewhere on Earth, but any given spot on our planet’s surface gets darkened by the moon’s shadow on average only once about every 400 years. Eclipses actually happen often and every other year; it’s the availability of viewing from an accessible and populated area that makes the 2024 eclipse so special. The American Astronomical Society of the National Science Foundation — which was the source of the data included in this article — says the following:

“When you stand in the lunar shadow watching the Moon pass between Earth and the Sun, revel in the knowledge that you are witnessing one of the most unusual and spectacular events in the cosmos.”

What will you notice? For four full minutes on April 8, 2024, the disc of the moon will completely obscure the sun. The face of the sun experiences solar winds, and if you hold up a white sheet or piece of paper, you can see the shadows. The air temperature will drop up to 20 degrees and the barometric pressure drops. Day birds stop singing and night birds come out. Then, total darkness as the moon obscures the sun.

Can it be viewed with the naked eye? During the approximately four minutes of totality, you can safely look at the sun with the naked eye. Before and after totality — when the moon is starting to eclipse the sun or afterwards — you should use eclipse glasses or a safe viewing apparatus (a pinhole viewer, a piece of pierced cardboard or colander, something with holes) so that you don’t look at the glare directly.

The Main Event Venue in Waco: The area outside Baylor University’s McLane Stadium. Outside because inside the stadium, the drop of temperature and barometric pressure would create a cloud system that would diminish viewing. Outdoor seating areas and event stations, including food trucks, booths and telescopes, will be spread out to create more air flow and better viewing.

Who are the event partners?
★ City of Waco
★ Baylor University and its Mayborn Museum
★ Lowell Observatory of Flagstaff, Arizona
★The Discovery Channel

Over the Next 12 Months
★ Tickets for the main viewing venue at Baylor University’s McLane Stadium went on sale March 31 at the city’s press conference kicking off the countdown to eclipse day, with different price structures for children under five, adults and those who choose a VIP package. Paid parking will be available at the stadium, as well as free parking throughout downtown Waco with free shuttle buses to the stadium sponsored by the City of Waco. There will be about 20,000 tickets available but because of anticipated high demand, you’re encouraged to buy them as soon as possible. Purchase tickets online at Eclipse Over Texas: Live from Waco at eclipseovertexas2024.com.
★ Area hotels will be accepting reservations 365 days in advance. Eclipse weekend is April 5-7, 2024, with the total eclipse taking place on Monday, April 8.
★ Talks by world-renowned scientists, engineers and astrophysicists will be livestreamed nationally on The Discovery Channel.
★ Baylor’s Mayborn Museum will offer teacher training workshops by application for K-12 teachers across central Texas this summer with an emphasis on working with teachers from under-served and rural school districts whose students may not be able to physically view the eclipse in Waco, because it takes place on a schoolday.
★ The Mayborn Museum will offer two special space-related art exhibits beginning in December.
★ October 14 (when a partial solar eclipse will occur) will be recognized at the Mayborn Museum’s annual Sic ‘Em Science Day, a program offering STEM fun for the whole family, including opportunities to talk to Baylor U researchers about the work going on in their labs every day.

Eclipse Day Weekend: April 5-8, 2024
★ An outdoor concert will be held in downtown Waco on Friday, April 5.
★ Special events will take place all day Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, with details rolling out throughout the year.
★ Eclipse day (Monday, April 8, 2024) at McLane Stadium’s Touchdown Alley will feature open viewing space outside the stadium, music, food trucks, kids’ activities, public-access telescopes, vendor booths and science exhibit areas with demonstrations by Baylor University science faculty.
★ Free parking in designated areas across downtown Waco with complimentary shuttle buses to McLane Stadium sponsored by the City of Waco.
★ The stadium area will feature STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) zones staffed by experts with information on the eclipse, and STEM education and careers.
★ Up to 20 telescope stations will be set up around the stadium perimeter for safe viewing.
★ Look for local businesses, restaurants, bars and other venues to capitalize on the eclipse with special events, activities and renamed food and drink with a nod to the galaxy. It’s really a thing.

Waco really is the center of the universe. OK, maybe not the actual center and maybe not the whole universe, but it will definitely be the place to be to view a rare total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024.

Waco will be catapulted into the international spotlight as one of the best places to view the full eclipse, which will be livestreamed on-site by The Discovery Channel. The location was handpicked by the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona — an independent, nonprofit research institution founded in 1894 and known for its discovery of the dwarf planet Pluto — for its nearly ideal position in the totality path and optimum chance of fair weather. And boy, Waco intends to be ready.

Planning began a year ago after the observatory reached out to city leaders, who promptly made contact and set the planning wheels in motion. Now that we’re T-minus one year away from the big event, strategic planning has amped up in earnest to provide a public experience that will educate with hard, fact-based science but also serve up a big dose of geeky fun.

Two national partners — the Lowell Observatory and The Discovery Channel — have teamed up with local partners the City of Waco and Baylor University to plan for a year-long cross-disciplinary buildup to the eclipse. There will be workshops and lectures, space-themed art exhibits at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum and teacher training workshops to arm educators with materials to reach students across the county, especially those who may not be able to travel to Waco for the actual eclipse.

“Each partner brings its own distinctive strengths so that together we can deliver a comprehensive experience for the city,” said Dr. Jeremy Vickers, associate vice president for External Affairs at Baylor University and its principal eclipse planning contact. “Baylor brings its science education and outreach, as well as its position as a Tier One research university, and the physical venue of McLane Stadium and art support of the Mayborn Museum; the city contributes marketing, logistics and physical infrastructure. The Lowell Observatory contributes world-class credibility as planetary science experts who advocate for science education. And the Discovery Channel, with other media partners, will be our media outlet, capturing the science talks, speakers and live talks, which will be broadcast across the country.”

“The solar eclipse is an opportunity to showcase Waco as a hub of culture, and scientific and educational enrichment — to put Waco in a position nationally and internationally for people to experience both its small-town charm and big-city sophistication,” said Vickers.

Event planners and the city are bracing for as many as 30,000 eclipse weekend visitors, from curious tourists to data-gathering scientists to — let’s face it — science nerds.
“We feel it’s the best site in the state and even the country [to view the eclipse] because of the strength of the partners,” said Carla Pendergraft, assistant director of tourism for the Waco Convention & Visitors’ Bureau and Convention Center. “Even though there are thousands of cities where people will be able to view the eclipse, we’re the largest community in Texas in the ideal path of totality. We hope lives will be changed and turned toward science.”

“The 2024 eclipse may be the only one many Wacoans see in their lifetime,” said Krista Brinser, director of Baylor External Affairs Community Relations — whose department supports various community partnerships on behalf of the university, including the eclipse event. “Baylor University’s partnership with the City of Waco, Lowell Observatory and The Discovery Channel ensures a world-class event that everyone can enjoy — right on campus, along the banks of the Brazos.”

“The Mayborn Museum will be involved in training teachers how to educate their students about the eclipse with fun science activities, and how to view the eclipse safely,” said Emily Clark, engagement manager for Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum.

“If students can’t be out of school on eclipse day, which is a Monday, we want teachers to be able to create meaningful experiences on their campuses. We also have fun on-site activities in the works for families and adults leading up to the eclipse, including an early-learner story time and adult lectures. Our job now is to really get the word out so people will know how cool this is, and reinforce that through social media and with reoccurring programs here at the museum.

“The Mayborn will feature two exhibits in the spring 2024 semester: ‘Journey to Space,’ January 27-April 21, from the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the photography exhibit ‘A New Moon Rises’ from December through May, our first exhibit in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute since becoming a Smithsonian affiliate in the fall of 2023,” said Clark.

Astrophysicist Dr. Barbara Castanheira Endl, senior lecturer in Baylor University’s Department of Physics whose field of research is white dwarf stars, will be organizing a teacher’s workshop to teach experiments for school kids in the Waco region this fall and spring. She’s also organizing an international scientific conference in astrophysics hosted at Baylor in the days prior to the eclipse.

Science education fits right into Baylor University’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program to direct more students — particularly women, minorities and the financially disadvantaged — to tech careers by providing positive exposure they may not be able to experience in their small or rural schools.

“With science, there are plenty of opportunities to hear and to read,” said Alan Small, Baylor’s STEM programs director. “We’re always looking for ways to be actively involved in STEM education. When nature hands us such an uncommon experience, it’s just an amazing opportunity to come together as a community.” BU’s Dr. Endl will also be deeply involved in setting up STEM activities on eclipse day and giving pop-up talks for the public.

It’s easy to jump on board with a virtually once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event that has the capacity to bring the community together in a time where polarization often prevails. Not just because of its location, but because of its collaborative resources and partnerships — and the people who drive them — Waco will have its moment in the sun.

“With all of its research, the Lowell Observatory reached out to partner with the city of Waco since it will have some of the best eclipse viewing over the entire state of Texas,” said Waco Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon.

“After the observatory contacted us, of course we wanted to bring in Baylor [University.] At the kickoff press conference March 31, the City of Waco invited folks to ‘join us in Waco’ for a weekend full of festivities surrounding the eclipse. Our guests will experience the total solar eclipse in a great location with a view of uninterrupted sky.

“With the expertise of Baylor University and Lowell Observatory, the city is offering an opportunity for people not to forget their four minutes in Waco — ever.”

Note: This article focuses on the eclipse and events at large with local partners City of Waco and Baylor University. Subsequent articles throughout the coming year will spotlight national partners the Lowell Observatory and The Discovery Channel and will update specific details as they become available.


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