Clark Planetarium director offers advice on viewing Monday’s eclipse
Astronomer hopes viewers will sense the wonder of the universe
An eclipse, like the one about to cast its shadow over Park City on Monday, has the power to elicit both wonder and humility. One person who is more than qualified to attest to that fact is Seth Jarvis, director of Clark Planetarium and a passionate astronomer.
Jarvis has been chasing total eclipses since the 1970s and admits that, each time, his efforts have been thwarted. In 1979, just four months after landing a dream job at Salt Lake City’s planetarium, Jarvis and an eager band of coworkers jumped in his VW bug and headed for the path of totality in northern Montana.
“I got it in my head that we could hit the road at 2 a.m. and we would arrive in Montana in time to witness totality. But my car broke down in Davis County, so I had a carload of very disgruntled coworkers,” he recalled with a laugh.
This time, the man who has spent the last 30 years sharing his love of the solar system with thousands of planetarium visitors is not taking any chances of getting stuck on the side of the road. He made hotel reservations in Casper, Wyoming, three years in advance and began the journey on Thursday.
“This is my third attempt at a total solar eclipse and I think I have a high probability of getting this one. But if I should lose out, there is another chance in 2024 and then, if I can stay alive until I turn 90, there is one that goes right through Utah in 2045.”
For those hoping to land a spot on the path of totality for this eclipse, which runs tantalizingly close to the Wasatch Front, Jarvis had some stern advice.
“My advice to people is, if at all possible, to go to bed Saturday night where you plan to wake up and spend the morning on the 21st,” he said.
Jarvis, along with the Utah Department of Transportation and many other service providers, is warning travelers to expect lots of eclipse-related traffic congestion, especially along Interstate 15.
“Don’t think you are going to get a lot of traveling done Sunday or Monday,” he warned. “Keep your gas tank full. Plan to live out of your car. Pretend you are going on an expedition across the Sahara Desert. Carry all of your own food, all of your own water, all of your own medical and sanitary needs. Literally, anticipate living out of your car.”
According to Jarvis, the mass of people expected to head northward to camp out along the path of totality is expected to overwhelm gas stations and restaurants.
For instance, Salt Lakers aiming for the closest spot where the moon will completely cover the sun, Rexburg, Idaho, may find that a trip that typically takes three hours will take much longer.
“We have people who calculate what is known as a driveshed, Jarvis said. Like a watershed that maps the flow of water from little streams to bigger streams, then from little rivers to bigger rivers that eventually end up with basically two rivers in the whole U.S., drivesheds do the same thing.”
That means, everyone headed to see the total eclipse on Monday will be funneled onto two major roadways: I-95 in the East and I-15 in the West.
“The number one driveshed, the real nightmare, is going to be I-95 from Florida to Maine. They are all going to be trying to get into North Carolina on I-95. The second biggest driveshed in America is going to be I-15. That is going to be collecting eclipse-watchers from Southern California, to Phoenix to Las Vegas — to say nothing of people from the Wasatch Front,” said Jarvis.
But Parkites who don’t tend to plan three years ahead are not completely out of luck. There will be an impressive light show right here in Summit County, where the moon will cover 91 percent of the sun.
According to statistics from NASA, along the Wasatch Front the eclipse will begin at about 10:14 a.m. and will reach maximum coverage at 11:34 a.m. The show will be over, for another decade or so, at 12:58 p.m.
While not as dramatic as a total eclipse, Jarvis said Utah’s deep partial eclipse will be noticeable. The light will grow dim and shadows will become more defined.
That is when, Jarvis hopes, the wonder will set in.
“That is when you realize that the universe is a grand, amazing place and you are part of it, and sometimes it does something extraordinary and allows you to witness it,” he said.
Jarvis hopes that feeling of excitement will linger beyond Monday’s eclipse and will inspire families to explore more science-related activities, like visiting the planetarium or the Museum of Natural History or just going on a nature walk.
“Clearly, what we desperately need, like no other time in human history is a scientifically literate public. So, if an eclipse is an opportunity to get people to say, ‘I like learning about science’ or gets them enthused about science in our everyday lives, we are all in favor of that,” he said.
City Hall has scheduled an event on Tuesday, May 21, designed for people who are contemplating a bid for elected office in the municipal campaign.