If you’ve never been in the path of totality of a solar eclipse, it can be a hard thing to describe. As the moon passes in front of the sun, an area about 70 miles wide is plunged into darkness – and it’s an experience unlike anything else.
But Paul Cox, the observatory and chief astronomical officer for Washington Depot-based robotic telescope service Slooh, can try.
“We had 12 seconds of it,” Cox said referring to the 2013 solar eclipse in Kenya. “It only peeked out from behind the clouds for a moment — I was broadcasting at the time — it was the most profoundly moving experience I’ve ever had in my life.”
When a solar eclipse passes over the contiguous United States Aug. 21 it will be for much longer than 12 seconds. Experts expect the event to last upwards of two minutes, Connecticut is not in the path of totality, but Cox, along with Slooh CEO and founder Michael Paolucchi are driving cross-country to get a front-row seat to the celestial event of the century.
Slooh, which gives its users the opportunity to view telescopes from around the globe, left from the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford Monday destined for Stanley, Idaho, with the goal of a live broadcast of the solar eclipse.
Cox and Paolucchi are hoping to share the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon — not just with the 200 stargazers from around the globe they’ll be meeting in Idaho or the roughly 80,000 Slooh members — but with the global community.
“We need something that brings us all together. There’s so much divisiveness in our culture and how do we get people to celebrate these moments,” Paolucchi said. “Stop and look up and realize that tens of millions of people are doing this with you and that’s a chance for people to feel a sense of unification.”
The Slooh crew won’t be taking a straight line from Hartford to Idaho. In the two weeks leading up to the solar eclipse their mobile observatory will be making stops in Harrisburg, Pa., St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho, before reaching their final destination. At each spot, the duo plans to demonstrate Slooh’s equipment and raise awareness of the forthcoming celestial event.
Solar eclipses are not that uncommon. In fact, a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on Earth about once every 18 months, according to NASA. What makes this event so unique is that it’s the first time since 1979 that any of the states in the contiguous U.S. has seen a total eclipse. Furthermore, the path of totality will cut across the entire country — beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. That hasn’t happened since June 9, 1918, when an eclipse passed from Washington through Florida.
So it’s no surprise that the interest in the eclipse along the path of totality has spiked in recent weeks, and the people at Slooh certainly won’t be the only ones vying to catch a glimpse of what one astronomer at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science predicted will be the “most photographed most shared most tweeted event in human history.” According to estimates by GreatAmericanEclipse.com, as many as 370,000 people may flock to Idaho for 120 seconds of darkness. Nationwide, experts estimate that as many as 7.4 million people will travel to a spot along the path of totality.
This surge of people could make life in Stanley, with its population of just 63 people, a bit difficult. But Stanley is among the most ideal locations to experience an eclipse, Cox says.
“It’s one of the best locations that we picked,” Cox said. “Weather wise is what eclipse-watchers always go for. Eclipse-chasers plan three, four, five years in advance. Anybody who has tried to book a hotel on the line of totality probably called the hotel and was told, ‘Sorry we booked up three years ago.’ ”
The road trip coincides with Slooh’s launch of a free membership. The new subscription offers free access to all live telescope feeds and shows, ability to capture a limited number of photos and participate in the community — something Paolucchi says is integral to his company’s mission.
“Our whole purpose is to democratize access to space,” he said.
The eclipse starts at 9:06 a.m. local time in Madras, Ore. and makes its way across the country over the next several hours before exiting the continent at 4:06 p.m.