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Scientists scope out Highland Lakes as possible livestream site for 2024 eclipse

Solar eclipse

During a solar eclipse predicted to happen April 8, 2024, the moon will pass between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow on a narrow band of the planet, including a stretch of the Texas Hill Country and the Highland Lakes. Image courtesy of NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

The best place on earth to view a solar eclipse predicted to happen April 8, 2024, is Central Texas. An expert in the phenomenon visited the Highland Lakes in late June of this year to look for an optimum location to livestream the event to the rest of the world, including a stop at Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet.

“The last eclipse was watched by 60 million people,” said Robyn Higdon, who has been chasing solar eclipses around the world since 1999 as part of the Exploratorium and NASA’s Total Solar Eclipse Live production. 

The Exploratorium, a San Francisco science museum, partners with NASA to livestream solar eclipses. Higdon, the project’s executive producer, will bring a crew of 40 people, about 2 tons of gear, and satellite/production trucks to film the four-minute-long eclipse. 

The crew will conduct livestreams in both English and Spanish as well as telescope views, which are accessible to the media, museums, educational institutions, schools, and just about anyone. 

Not everyone outside of the area will want to watch it online. Higdon warned that the Highland Lakes needs to be prepared for an onslaught of visitors. More than 100,000 people converged on Madras, Oregon, where Higdon and team set up for the August 2017 total solar eclipse. Madras is a town of about 7,000 residents.

Due to the track of the eclipse, the length of totality (time of blackout), and the more congenial spring weather of this area, the Texas Hill Country makes for a great spot to view the event. Llano, Burnet, and Marble Falls lie in the path of this next eclipse, which will begin at about 1:34 p.m. on that Monday in 2024. 

“Since this one is happening in the middle of the day, it’s even more incredible because everything will go dark,” Higdon said. “You’ll be able to see stars. It’s incredible, very emotional.”

2017 eclipse in Madras, Oregon
About 100,000 people viewed the August 2017 solar eclipse in and around Madras, Oregon, a community of roughly 7,000 people. The Texas Hill Country and the Highland Lakes lie in the path of a total solar eclipse to happen April 8, 2024. Photo courtesy of NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Watching a total eclipse is a bucket list item for a lot of people, Higdon said. 

“It’s one of the most beautiful events you’ll ever see,” she continued. “The great thing here in the Hill Country is all people need to do is step in their backyard to see the eclipse.”

Higdon experienced her first total solar eclipse early one morning in 1998. An Exploratorium employee, she arrived to watch a livestream as it crossed over Aruba. 

“The (stream) was at 4 o’clock in the morning (in San Francisco), and we had 2,000 people in the museum to watch it,” she said.

The next year, she joined the production crew, traveling to Zambia, Turkey, Chile, the Gobi Desert in western China, and Mexico. Next stop will be Central Texas and possibly the Highland Lakes. She is looking for a place that can handle the crew, gear, and space requirements. 

Along with her stop at Canyon of the Eagles, Higdon visited Fredericksburg and Kerrville as possible livestream sites. No decision will be made until after several trips to the area, she said. The June trip was her first.

The Hill Country gets a double dose of solar events within six months. On Oct. 14, 2023, an annular eclipse will move across Texas from the northwest, slice over the Hill Country, and exit over the Coastal Bend.

Higdon said the annular eclipse is often referred to as a “ring of fire,” since the moon — due to a little variance in its distance from the Earth — doesn’t totally shade out the sun. The event will be visible from 10:20 a.m. to 1:31 p.m. that day with maximum effect just before noon. While an annular eclipse is striking, she said, it is not as impressive as the total eclipse coming six months later in April 2024.

“I’m so afraid people will see the annular eclipse and think that’s not all that impressive,” she said. “The annular eclipse is nothing like the total eclipse. You’ll remember the total eclipse for the rest of your life, which is why, if you have kids or grandkids, make sure you take them to see.”

For more information on the 2023 annular eclipse and the 2024 total eclipse, visit the Time and Date eclipse page, National Eclipse page, or NASA solar eclipse page

daniel@thepicayune.com