Carbondale hosts more than 50,000 onlookers, scientists and media professionals to witness solar eclipse 

By Maryam Azadani

The city of Carbondale, Illinois, once again found itself at the center of celestial excitement as more than 50,000 eager spectators descended to witness the much-anticipated total solar eclipse of 2024. Known as the “Eclipse Crossroads of America,” Carbondale offered a prime viewing location for this rare astronomical event. As dawn broke over the horizon, anticipation reached a fever pitch among residents and visitors alike. Families, astronomy enthusiasts and curious onlookers flocked to designated viewing areas such as Saluki Stadium and the campus lake of Southern Illinois University, where special events and activities were organized to celebrate the occasion.

Karla Berry produced the live stream show that is part of an SIU NASA-funded project called Solar Steam. This project grew out of the work that a number of people at SIU did with some people at NASA in 2017 during the eclipse when we were in totality. 

This solar steam project was proposed and formulated over the last few years. This project is to tell the story of the sun. “Therefore, it is solar steam and heliophysics, which is part of NASA’s Helio big year, which goes through for another year or two. Helio big year because the sun is coming into solar maximum,” Berry told GJR. 

The eclipse that happened in 2024 was so bright and powerful because the sun has an 11-year cycle. In 2017, it wasn’t as big, gassy, and volatile as it was this year. As the moon began its journey across the face of the sun, casting its shadow over the landscape, a sense of wonder and excitement filled the air. Spectators donned special eclipse glasses and peered skyward, eagerly awaiting the moment of totality.

Photo by Maryam Azadani

Her part was to produce the live stream show on Eclipse day. SIU had partners at NASA, Johns Hopkins APL, the Applied Physics Laboratory, Aries Scientific, student telescope teams and a media crew from the media arts department at SIU. It was a multi camera live production; they have been working since September on these media elements to be used on the website, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the live stream show. 

They collaborated with NASA Edge, which is a subcontractor to NASA TV. They had live telescope feeds, and those telescopes came from this associated project and another SIU NASA-funded project called Deb Dynamic Eclipse broadcast. That project had 80 to 90 telescopes along the path of totality. 15 or 20 of those teams were all-girl teams, and that is another associated project that was all about girls and STEM major students. Chris Mandrel, a Ph.D. student at SIU in Physics, has been the person directing the training on how to use telescopes since the Fall.

There was a similar project in 2017; it was called Kate, another acronym, and this time it was Deb. “The students in media arts have been collaborating with the astronomy students and worked and interviewed scientists and eclipse chasers. As a result, they created short non-fiction documentaries, interview productions, and short animations about eclipse safety and eclipse science for all ages,” Berry said. 

Photo by Maryam Azadani

Most of the major TV media outlets sent reporters, including as the Weather Channel, ABC, CBS and The New York Times. Local news outlets also were represented in the press pool.

“Nearly 90% of my work was live coverage for NPR and the Solar STEAM Livestream, so my primary job was to observe what was happening and tell other people about it,” said Jennifer Fuller, for Capitol News Illinois. “The press pool was impressive. We all had a job to do, and that’s not always easy when we’re all trying to talk to the same people. By having a good plan before the eclipse, we were able to schedule our guests and then have backup plans if someone was unable to join us at their scheduled time.”

Fuller was primarily involved in two live shows. She was a guest on NPR’s Here and Now and a co-host for the Solar STEAM livestream with SIU and NASA EDGE.

Photo by Maryam Azadani

Robert Dennis, who majored in Cinema in 1984 at SIU and worked in the movie business, including Lucasfilm, Disney, and HBO, for 25 years, was invited to capture the eclipse through telescopes. 

“In October, an annular eclipse occurred and went over Santa Fe. This DEB initiative, through Karla Berry, provided me with equipment to capture the October eclipse, and I kept the equipment to do the same today using any of the software that drives this,” Dennis said. “To me, this is like a job. It has some similarities to the work I did in the movie business and some similar interests from the technology point of view. We captured the data, which NASA will take and use.”

Maryam Azadani is a correspondent at Gateway Journalism Review and a master’s student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

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