Rochester shines a light on its eclipse plans at a national conference
"If you look around you here, every single person feels incredibly passionately about what's to come."
Deb Ross chairs Rochester's eclipse task force - and she was in good company among more than a hundred people at San Antonio's planetarium for the two-day session organized by the American Astronomical Society.
"I live and breathe eclipses. I just can't get enough of eclipses and in fact, my whole life is actually - at the moment, it's just full-on. But yes, I am an eclipse chaser and I will be chasing for the rest of my life," said Kate Russo.
For most people, the drama of a total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Russo has seen it 13 times, traveling all over the world from her home base in Australia. If she sounds like an evangelist for the experience, that's not by accident.
This was the third and final national AAS eclipse conference before next year's big event. While previous sessions, including one last year in Rochester, focused heavily on all the logistics of preparing for eclipse traffic and safety, the theme this time was communicating the mystique of the eclipse to a sometimes skeptical public all along the path of totality, which will run from Texas through Rochester and into New England.
"I was just constantly blown away with the generosity of people with their knowledge and their resources about a very specific event that can be very science heavy and can be kind of a turn off if you're not careful with it," said Sarah Wolfe, who is planning for the eclipse in Vincennes, Indiana.
"There's a tremendous amount of excitement. There's always going to be a few people like the lady at the farmer's market who told me that she didn't care for natural phenomena. Which I barely knew how to react to in a polite manner because i didn't understand it," she said.
David Baron was an NPR science correspondent when he saw his first total eclipse in 1998. He's seen eight of them now, and he's written a book about a total eclipse that crossed the US in 1878.
"What I didn't expect was the effect you would have on me emotionally and I dare say spiritually and I say this as a person who is not in the least religious. But the moment the sun went out and I saw a sky like I'd never seen before," Baron recalled.
"I felt connected to the universe, that I was this tiny little speck in this enormous unfathomable universe. I'm sure it's what people who are religious feel when they go to church. And it just, it really changed me. It made me feel connected with other people with, with my environment and it was such a such a peaceful wonderful feeling I wanted to have it again."
That's a feeling millions of Americans experienced just six years ago when totality crossed the country from Oregon to the Carolinas - and it's something eclipse planners hope to bring to millions more next year who will either be in the path of totality or will travel for it. A study presented at the conference projects as many as half a million people could head to New York State to see totality.
"I feel really confident after events like this," said Dan Schneiderman, the RMSC's eclipse coordinator. He's coming back full of even more ideas to promote the event.
"There's a lot of things that we can replicate. I love hearing some new stories that people did back in 2017 or, you know, some of the side projects that they're doing. We just heard about citizen science projects that i would love to replicate," he said.
One goal of the conference is to try to communicate the eclipse experience to everyone - including audio devices to help visually impaired people "hear" the darkness, as well as programs for native communities and even prison inmates. And there's something else Rochester's delegation is bringing home from Texas - praise for the planning that's been underway back home for years.
"I think Rochester is going to be a great place to view it just because of all the excitement that's there," Russo said.
If that excitement turns out to be contagious, Russo says you might want to plan a trip to Australia.
"We have five [total solar eclipses] in 15 years. So we just had the first one in April, and we have the next one in 2028, 2030, 37 and 38."
Long before that, we'll get a bit of a preview on October 14th when the Rochester area is in the path of a partial solar eclipse... another opportunity for the area's task force to talk up the big solar show next April.