Small Illinois town prepares to take center stage during total solar eclipse

A rare event in space will bring a dark day for millions of Americans, but many see it as a cause for celebration.

Scientists and citizens alike are preparing for August 21 when a total solar eclipse will cross North America for the first time in 99 years.

It will start in Oregon and take less than two hours to reach South Carolina.
  
The small town of Makanda, Illinois, however, will be directly in the eclipse's path and is one of the places where the eclipse can be viewed the longest - over two minutes, reports CBS News' Adriana Diaz. 

"I do feel lucky. How can you not feel lucky? This is a lucky event," said Dave Dardis.

The solar eclipse's path runs straight through Dave Dardis' art studio and shop in Makanda, and friends are coming out of the woodwork to get in on the action.

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The line marking the eclipse's path goes through Dave Dardis' art studio in Makanda. 

CBS News


 
"They are wondering, 'is there room in your backyard?' If they're good friends I tell them bring your sleeping bag, there's room," Dardis said.
 
Tens of thousands of people are expected to pour into the region. Joe McFarland calls himself the town's unofficial eclipse coordinator.

"What it means is we're nervous, that we're going to have crowd control issues, traffic control issues. We're trying to prepare for that," McFarland said. 


 
On August 21, the eclipse will race across the country at an average speed of about 1,500 miles per hour, covering a swath roughly 70 miles wide. Day will turn to night and temperatures will drop as much as 25 degrees.

"And everyone all around you has this sense, this feeling of awe as they're watching this really incredible experience," said Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer for the Franklin Institute Science Museum.
 
Makanda is just one of the many places along the eclipse's path where scientists will also gather to collect rare data on the sun and the earth.

"We're going to be looking at changes in the clouds, temperature, light, as well as how are animals and plants going to respond to this," said NASA astrophysicist Dr. Alex Young.
 
Looking skyward, the eclipse will give spectators their only chance to view the sun's lower corona. That area expels electromagnetic energy and matter into the solar system, which can have a real-world impact here on earth.
 
"It messes with GPS, with our communications systems, even power grids," Young said.
 
Still, here in Makanda, many are looking forward to not one but two solar eclipses, the second of which will occur in 2024.
 
"If I'm still alive!! I think that will be quite great," Dardis joked about the 2024 eclipse.

If you're thinking of coming out here for the big event, it may be too late. Eclipse fever means several hotels are already booked in prime viewing locations across the country. In Makanda, town organizers say one room is fetching as much as $3,800.