BIG NUMBERS by Theo Wellington, NASA Solar System Ambassador


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BIG NUMBERS by Theo Wellington, NASA Solar System Ambassador

I have a background in astronomy, where most of the numbers are, well, astronomically big. So large numbers are not generally something to be feared, and most calculations can really be done by rounding and estimating. No one needs to know the distance to a galaxy in anything other than a couple of billion light years. Let’s play with some numbers… and the upcoming Music City Solar Eclipse.

The number everyone wants to know who is planning events is how many people will come?  The best guess is that everywhere along the eclipse path will roughly double in population. Is that an actual number that is useful, or just randomly pulled out of a hat?

Nashville’s Chamber of Commerce will tell you: half the US population lives within a day’s drive of Nashville. So we can invite 320/2 or 160 million visitors! But wait, everyone can’t possibly come. What if 10 percent could find the time to drive for a once in a lifetime sight? Now the party has 16 million people. That still seems like a lot… but the eclipse enthusiast community really and truly wants to impress upon everyone that it is worth making the effort to get to totality.

What if just two out of a hundred came?  Decided to visit relatives, high school buddies, college friends who just happen to live where the shadow of the Moon will sweep across Tennessee. Just 2%. That seems completely reasonable… and that’s 3.2 million people. In the actual path through Tennessee live 2.3 million people. So yes, yes we can easily double the population! Go ahead and start cleaning the spare bedroom now. Most of our guests will be staying with us, the hotels don’t have anywhere near the capacity. Let’s show them a good time – but plan ahead and stock up on food and anything else you need. Remember this is not just us… this is Oregon to South Carolina, a seventy mile wide, 3,000 mile long Bonnaroo!

Three million. That could be a scary number, but it should just be a wake up call to plan. Do not imagine that everyone will only go to Nashville, or Gallatin, fine places though they are. Eclipse maps paired with interactive apps mean everyone can see where the path of totality goes and how they can put themselves in the path. We also can’t hold just a handful of eclipse viewing sites… we need a lot of small sites scattered about. Every large parking area especially at interstate exits is a potential viewing site. Every back yard. Every library. Every high school football field. 

Funny, though, many out-of-town enthusiasts do not understand how broad the invitation is, nor how many might come. The local astronomy club, the Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society is getting emails asking where the party will be. The party. As in one? Which one? Club members will be all over, at home or wherever they can be where the Sun is shining. But this is not an event for geeks.

Well it is… but it's also much more. 

Every student should see this! Memphis should come to Nashville. A solar eclipse, even today, is not primarily a science event. Totality is a very human event, hitting our brains at a level most do not expect. I have never heard anyone say, "oh, it was just like I thought it would be." Instead they tell you how emotional it was, how very beautiful, how awe inspiring. So don’t just wait for friends to ask… invite everyone you know to come and stand with you under the shadow of the Moon.

It’s gonna be astronomically big. 

- Theo Wellington, Solar System Ambassador
Past President Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society
Eclipse evangelist  

Music City Solar Eclipse Festival & Viewing Party

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 3:30 PM
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