MU astronomer anticipates economic impact of 2017 eclipse

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COLUMBIA - In about a year, on August 21, 2017 a total solar eclipse will be viewable across much of the United States.

Columbia is right in the middle of the path making it the first total solar eclipse since 1442 in the area. The last solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1991 in Hawaii. The last eclipse in Missouri was in 1839, but it did not go over Columbia or St. Louis.

How this could help tourism in Columbia

Angela Speck, director of astronomy and professor of astrophysics at the University of Missouri said she believes it will bring a lot of tourists to the area. 

"One of the things I don't think people realize is how big of a deal this is going to be," Speck said. "There is a big tourism industry around it and then as it gets close to the time there will be so many people that will say, 'that's close by, let's go see it.'"

Speck said the numbers of visitors coming to the area will be a huge boost to the economy. 

"My prediction is actually that we will have 400,000 visitors. This is based on a number of different things. But if we think about how many people come to town for True/False, for Homecoming, for football games, for Roots N Blues N BBQ and all of that. Then think about the rarity of the event and people's mobility, I think we will actually be struggling to house everybody," Speck said. 

She said people don't have to be very organized to go because the majority of the population is close to the path. 

"To give you an idea of the numbers, there are 12 million people that live on the path of eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina. But there are 88 million people that live within two hundred miles, and 350 million people, the entire population, within a long days drive," Speck said. 

Speck said she is expecting that people will try to make last minute plans to come to Missouri or other places on the path to see the eclipse. 

"Part of the preparation is to get hotels ready, thinking about other alternative accommodations, having emergency services ready because there will be traffic. It's in the middle of August so there will also be issues of heat stroke probably standing out in the middle of the day," Speck said, "So we have to get all the towns on the path ready for that"

Beth Mead, sales manager at Columbia Convention and visitors bureau said it's too soon to comment on the economic impact of the eclipse, but she said there is a planning crew in place to start thinking about events for the eclipse. 

What a solar eclipse is

"A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between earth and the sun," Speck said.

"If you wear the right glasses you see what looks like the moon taking a bite out of the sun, until the moon is in front of the sun," Speck said. 

Speck said the eclipse starts around midday and goes till about 2 p.m., taking about two hours total. 

The dangers of the eclipse

"Most people know you shouldn't look at the sun, it hurts even with sun glasses on. So during the partial phase, that is before the moon gets directly in between, you need special glasses," Speck said.

Glasses will be sold at the Mizzou bookstore that have a special film in the glasses that is so thick you can only see the sun. 

Speck said once it gets to the full phase the glasses will no longer work and you can look at the eclipse with the naked eye.