Total eclipse crossroads: Southern Illinois prepares for second total solar eclipse in 7 years

Carbondale was also along the path of totality in August 2017, and this year's total eclipse will also pass over the Illinois town. SIU will host the Southern Illinois Eclipse Crossroads of America Festival from April 5-8.

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Eclipse chasers travel the world to witness a few minutes of a total solar eclipse, but for the town of Carbondale, Illinois, this rare astronomical wonder is happening twice in seven years right in their backyard.

On April 8, a total solar eclipse will be visible across parts of the U.S. from Texas to Maine. A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, completely blocking the Sun's face for several minutes. It will be the last time a total solar eclipse passes over a large part of the U.S. until 2044. 

Carbondale was also along the path of totality in August 2017, and this year's total eclipse will also pass over the Illinois town. 

"For a location to be in the path of two eclipses in a seven-year time span is literally unheard of," said Sarah Vanvooren, director of events and outreach at Southern Illinois University.


With lessons learned from putting on an eclipse festival seven years ago, Southern Illinois University (SIU) is preparing to host the Southern Illinois Eclipse Crossroads of America Festival from April 5-8.

To say this eclipse is exciting for SIU and Carbondale is an understatement. 

"As far as how big of a deal this is for any locale, it's a 10 out of 10, but for us, it's like a 15 out of 10 because we weren't just in the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse, but we're also in the path of totality for 2024 now," Vanvooren said.

The four-day festival includes mostly free and family-friendly events with something for everyone, including 400 high school students who will color the sidewalks with eclipse art on April 5, Eclipse Con runs throughout the weekend, a Run from the Sun 5K on April 6 and the main event on April 8 at Saluki Stadium to watch the eclipse.

There is also an art festival, high-altitude balloon launches and the premiere of original music composed for Unity Point School in Carbondale.


"What we're doing on campus is not just eclipse day, it's the entire weekend," Vanvooren said.

In addition to events, SIU received a NASA grant, and the festival is a NASA-affiliated eclipse event. Vanvooren said some of the grant money went toward the university's rain plan using the Dynamic Eclipse Broadcast (DEB) Initiative to broadcast the eclipse imagery across the path of totality.

"We can actually broadcast those images into Saluki Stadium and simultaneously on YouTube," Vanvooren said. "So we can show the eclipse as it's happening elsewhere to people in Southern Illinois. So if it's cloudy or it's rainy, we can still pull eclipse imagery as it's happening, and you'll still be able to feel the eclipse happening all around you."

Throughout eclipse week, the SIU campus will host researchers working on eclipse-related studies.

A lot of research studying wildlife behavior during the eclipse is happening this year. SIU's PEASE LAB is partnering with NASA's Citizen-Science-funded project, Eclipse Soundscapes, to learn how the eclipse affects animals and insects during totality. 

A beginner's guide to the eclipse

After experiencing the 2017 total solar eclipse, SIU's volunteers, staff and faculty can offer advice to first-time eclipse watchers.

If you are on the SIU campus during the eclipse, you won't be able to miss any of the eclipse milestones, which will be broadcast over the intercom system.

"Intercoms on campus will broadcast when the eclipse starts, when to put on your glasses, when to take off your glasses. So we are making sure that everybody on campus knows what they're doing and has a positive eclipse experience," Vanvooren said.

Even if there is some cloud cover, it's important to know the entire eclipse won't likely be covered by clouds.

"Even on a partially cloudy day or a mostly cloudy day, you're still very likely to catch a glimpse, even if it's just a glimpse of what's happening," she said. "That's a big thing I want to remind people, even if it's near the path of totality and there's cloud cover, don't be alarmed."


Vanvooren said it's important to prepare people for what they might experience during the eclipse. It will get dark, about as dark as sunset, and the temperature can drop between 15 and 20 degrees.

Most importantly, eclipse watchers must know how to use their glasses.

"You definitely need (solar) glasses looking directly at the Sun. You do not need glasses if you're not looking at the Sun. And actually, solar glasses are specifically to look at the Sun. So if you wear glasses, and you're not looking at the Sun, you're not gonna be able to see anything," Vanvooren said. 

The only time it's safe to remove your solar glasses and look at the Sun is during totality. If you keep your glasses on during totality, you'll miss it, and you don't want to miss it, especially in Southern Illinois.

While Carbondale has been at the crossroads for the last two U.S. eclipses, Illinois will have to wait about 350 years for the next total solar eclipse.