The Western Kentucky town of Hopkinsville has hit the astronomical jackpot. When a total eclipse of the sun darkens skies Aug. 21, 2017, the show will last longer in a stretch of hilly country near Hopkinsville than any place on the planet. It will last two minutes and 40 seconds, not much longer than the Kentucky Derby.
Already this town of 32,000 near the Tennessee border is preparing to cash in on the celestial alignment. And like the Derby, run three hours away in Louisville, the eclipse will be a blip in time compared with the buildup.
“We will be the mecca of the solar eclipse because we are the dead center,” said Cheryl Cook, executive director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A few miles northwest of town, the countryside of crops, modest farmhouses and quaint churches is expected to draw bands of scientists and eclipse chasers. They’ll be armed with telescopes and cameras to capture the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. mainland since 1979.
“If people want to make the absolute most of it, and get every single last millisecond of looking, that’s where you want to be,” said Dean Regas, an astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory.
At the Hampton Inn & Suites, eclipse-chasing groups from Germany and Japan already have reserved more than two dozen rooms, said Jeff Smith, the inn’s general manager.
Smith said it’s a sign of the frenzy to come. “It will be the largest event that this community has ever seen,” he said.
Local officials started a Facebook page promoting the event. And they coined a slogan, “the most exciting two minutes and 40 seconds in astronomy” — playing off the Derby’s claim as the most exciting two minutes in sports.
Mike Mathis, co-owner of the Wood Shed Bar-B-Q & Restaurant, hopes to serve up slabs of ribs and piles of pork and mutton to hordes of visitors. The eatery is a few miles from the best eclipse-viewing spot.
Vince Dixon, who runs an ATV repair shop nearby, predicted area residents will be welcoming. It’s given him even more incentive to create a campground out of an empty field on his property.