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St. Louis Eclipse Expo aims to prepare public for rare total solar eclipse in August

A total solar eclipse seen from Australia in November 2012.
Romeo Durscher | NASA
A total solar eclipse seen from Australia in November 2012.

This August, people in parts Missouri will be able to see a total solar eclipse, an event that has not been visible in the area since 1442. The next isn’t expected to take place until the year 2505.

To prepare the public for this once in a lifetime event, local astronomy groups have organizedthe St. Louis Eclipse Expo this weekend. The event will feature about 80 exhibitors, vendors selling astronomy equipment, photography workshops and talks on the history and science of eclipses.

Organizers of the expo also stress that the eclipse this summer must be viewed safely. Special eclipse-viewing glasses will be distributed at the event.

“The sun has dangerous rays that can hurt your eyes and you’ll need protection, like a pinhole projector or eclipse glasses,” said Don Ficken, chair of the St. Louis Eclipse Task Force.

The path by which the total solar eclipse is supposed to travel on August 21, 2017.
Credit NASA
The total solar eclipse is supposed to travel on this path on Aug. 21.

When this rare event does occur, Ficken said, it will certainly be a strange experience for those observing it.

“It’ll be lights out,” he said. “The western sky will go dark. The animals start behaving like it’s night. You’ll be able to see the planets, five planets and some of the brighter stars. On the horizon, it’ll still be white because the shadow’s not there so you’ll have an eerie type of experience, if you will.”

It’s not hard to understand why people are excited about the event, he added.

“For example, why do people like the northern lights? I mean it’s very cool, right? Well, this is actually even cooler than that because [the eclipse has] got this dancing, beautiful that you-can’t-even-photograph-it type of thing going on,” Flicken said.

The St. Louis Eclipse Expowill take place Saturday at the Queeny Park Recreational Complex in Ballwin. In St. Louis, the solar eclipse is expected to occur in the St. Louis area at 1:16 p.m., on Aug. 21.

Follow Eli on Twitter:@storiesbyeli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.