May 25, 2017

Week 5: Amish, Aliens and Astronomy

Observatories, old and new at Yerkes…

All photos by author.

This past week, we ventured into the crossroads of two future eclipses.

Where will you be in 2017? Last week, we crossed paths with the upcoming total solar eclipse that will span the United States, now just over three years away. It’s not too early to start planning on where you’ll greet the Moon’s umbra now, as the residents of Hopkinsville Kentucky already know. The town sits very near the point of greatest eclipse, and many avid eclipse chasers have already laid plans to make the town their base of operations on August 21st, 2017. And ironically, the eclipse also falls on the date of another event the town is famous for: the Hopkinsville-Kelly UFO case of 1955. Will there be a convergence of UFO buffs and umbraphiles on the town in 2017? If extraterrestrials did happen visit Earth for its enviable eclipses on that summer date three years from now, would anyone know?

The Total Solar Eclipse of August 21st, 2017: the glow-in-the-dark t-shirt.

But as you head farther west, another special event is in store. The 2017 eclipse is followed up by another total solar eclipse seven years later in 2024, running from the southwest to the northeast. This will cross over the Missouri/Illinois/Kentucky tri-state region and areas like the Golden Pond Observatory and Planetarium are located in the path of the 2017 eclipse are just outside of the southern “graze-line” of the 2024 event.

The Golden Pond Observatory and Planetarium at Land Between the Lakes.

But no so with the town of Paducah, Kentucky, which will see both total solar eclipses in a seven year span. A hip town along the Ohio River, Paducah has a thriving artist in residence program. And I have yet to explain the meaning of this plate spotted in the middle of one of Paducah’s brick-lined streets:

Seen on the streets of Paducah, Kentucky…

Was it laid in anticipation of the 2017 event?

Crossing into Illinois, we spent a night in Alton and checked out the National Great Rivers Museum. This is also a great place to watch industry on the river in action as great ships ply the locks located on site. And don’t miss the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower to get an overview of the region and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, all located along the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.

And we just had to see how we stacked up against Robert Wadlow the world’s tallest man (ever) at 8’ 11”, also from Alton:

Feeling short in Alton, Illinois.

From Alton, we followed the river northward like explorers of yore, transiting and Amish county in Iowa back into Illinois for a brief respite in the town of Galena.

From there, we made our first excursion ever into the great state of Wisconsin. Along with cheese, Old Milwaukee and Happy Days, I knew that there was one stop I had to make: a visit to the Yerkes Observatory on the shores of Geneva Lake. This fine old building houses the world’s largest refractor at 40” in aperture. As of this writing, I’m still digesting the visit earlier today and the fine behind the scenes tour of the observatory by Richard Dreiser and the good folks at Yerkes. Modern astrophysics and American eminence in astronomy was born here. Just to stand in under the same dome as such a grand old instrument and watch the movable floor in action and hear the drone of its gears slewing the equatorial mount was an unforgettable experience… more to come!

The 40″ refractor at Yerkes!

-Follow David, his wife Myscha and their dog, Maggie on their North American adventures under the Twitter hashtags #DarkSkies2014 and #Trekhound.

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