LIMA — It may seem like a long way off, but the Lima Astronomical Society is letting people know about a major celestial event that could bring dollars to the region in 2024.
On April 8, 2024, residents throughout the region will witness a total solar eclipse when the moon slips completely in front of the sun, and the moon casts its shadow in a strip extending across the country.
The last solar eclipse to be viewed by Americans happened back in August of 2017, but local residents weren’t able to see a “total eclipse” as the moon was slightly misaligned with the sun. Four years from now, however, the moon will block out 100% of the sun in Lima for a few minutes — creating a unique experience throughout the region.
Dante Centuori, executive director of the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum, saw such an event play out firsthand when he traveled to Missouri during the 2017 solar eclipse. Centuori recalled how newly-placed electronic signs warned highway drivers about the darkness associated with the event, and when he arrived in the state’s capital, thousands like him had flocked to the city to experience the surreal moment when day turns into night for a few brief minutes
“I had a great location by a post. I had my telescope set up. It got dark, and totality set in,” Centuori said. “ In about 20 seconds, the street light above me went on.”
Centuori imagines a similarly well-attended event could be planned in the region to take advantage of eclipse hunters in 2024. He’s already scouting out locations for the museum.
“It’s on our radar and calendar. We know we’ll be doing something. It’s not often that the path of totality goes across our institution,” he said.
Relatedly, astronomical groups are looking to get the information out about the event in order to give event organizers enough time to plan for crowds. Lima Astronomical Society members presented information about the 2024 solar eclipse to Lima City Council this past Monday, and the group has been busy emailing other organizations throughout the region to highlight the potential economic impact.
Lima/Allen County Chamber President Jed Metzger said that the idea of celebrating the 2024 eclipse has also been sitting on the chamber’s backburner because of the economic opportunity the eclipse presents to the region.
“Whole communities were swamped with people because it was the best place to see the eclipse,” Metzger said. “I think that if you do some good planning. It’s an opportunity to put Lima on the map.
LAS Vice President Michael Ritchie said the astronomical society already has their own plans to profit from the event. As caretakers of Schoonover Observatory, they’re hoping that sales of eclipse glasses — specialized eye-wear that protect eyes from sun — could expand the observatory’s coffers.
But while the eclipse could be a money-maker, the region may have some unique challenges. The region’s weather in April is notoriously cloudy. Using historical data, Ritchie said the date of April 8 has had a 68% average chance of cloud cover on the day.
The Schoonover Observatory is also in need of some upkeep. While the eclipse was one reason Lima Astronomical Society members visited Lima City Council last Mondy, Ritchie said the society has also made a $3,000 request to the city to pay for the repair of some electrical motors necessary to use the observatory.
And then there’s the obstacle that ruined Centuori’s Missouri experience.
“We need to start working four years ahead of time to make sure the lights don’t go up,” Centuori said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.