COLUMBIA — The shadow of the upcoming eclipse looms large in Columbia, and locals recently had a chance to learn more about the extremely rare event.

Angela Speck, a professor and the director of astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at MU, gave a presentation on the upcoming eclipse at Logboat Brewing Co. on Tuesday evening.

Speck, wearing a skirt with lights sewn inside that gave off the impression of stars, explained the science behind a total solar eclipse to around a crowd of around 60.

The eclipse, which will occur Aug. 21 from about 1:05 to 1:20 p.m., is the first total solar eclipse to be seen in Columbia since 1869. Columbia will be one of the largest cities falling completely in the enormous path of the eclipse, which will cross 12 states. Kansas City and St. Louis are both only partially in the path.

Columbia's relatively large size and direct position in the eclipse's path has led to a boom in hotel reservations. A year in advance of the event, Stony Creek Hotel and Conference Center had already booked around half of their rooms, and, in total, 65 percent of all hotel rooms in town had been booked.

Speck said the rare event is only possible during a new moon due to the amount of the sun's path the large moon can cover. If the moon was in any other phase, the eclipse would hardly be noticeable.

She said eclipses are common, but are rarely noticeable by humans.

"You see, from the planet's perspective, it's not an uncommon event, exactly. It's just that the path is never really visible from where we are," said Speck, pointing at the paths of past eclipses.

Speck said the horizon will resemble the colors of twilight, and overall the sky will be about as bright as a night with a full moon. Because the sky will be dark during daylight hours, stars beyond the sun will also be present, leading to some astronomical anomalies. 

"Normally in August, you don't get to see the constellation Leo, which is really quite exciting," Speck said. Other visible stars and constellations will include Regulus, Sirius, Orion and Virgo, she said.

Beyond the visible differences, the temperature in the eclipse's path will drop by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and animals and plants will react as though it is night time. Speck said plants will close, birds will go crazy and cows will go inside their barns.

"It'll be quite a lot to take in, so be sure to be completely present," Speck said.

Supervising editor is John Sadler.

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