Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez
Australian Astronomical Observatory / Macquarie University (Australia)
Agrupación Astronómica de Córdoba / Red Andaluza de Astronomía (Spain)
Science can ease our fears, but not the damage to our wallets.
We’ve been thinking about how historical eclipses affected people and how the coming eclipse might affect us, especially given our broader scientific literacy. What will the eclipse mean for the cities and towns in the path of totality? How will millions of eclipse-chasers affect local economies and markets? And will these few minutes of darkness be worth the cost?
From Fear to Curiosity
As more people have become more scientifically literate, people’s narratives about eclipses have moved from supernaturally to scientifically awe-inspiring.
The first recorded eclipse was carved in stone by Neolithic people in what is now Ireland.
In ancient China, eclipses were regarded as heavenly signs that foretold the future of the Emperor. In 2134 BCE, court astronomers Hsi and Ho failed to predict an eclipse—a mistake that cost them their lives.
May 28th, 585
A solar eclipse caused such fear between the warring Greek city states of Lydia and Media that they ended their six-year conflict.
August 2nd, 1133
This eclipse occurred shortly after King Henry I left England for a military campaign in France, and the English feared it foretold Henry’s death. When he fell ill and did in fact die, the English people believed that the solar eclipse was responsible.
August 12th, 1654
German astronomer and philosopher Erhard Weigel created the first-ever eclipse map on August 11, 1654 in Germany. His scientific interest did not extend to the citizens of Paris, who largely hid in their cellars, convinced the world was ending.
July 28th, 1851
Norway and Sweden
In 1851, astronomers from all across Europe planned a scientific expedition, meeting in the path of totality and finally determining that the solar corona belongs to the sun, not the moon.
May 29th, 1919
During the Eclipse of 1919, scientists were able to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by measuring a shift in the position of nearby stars (usually obscured by the sun’s light) due to the influence of the sun’s gravity.
February 26th, 1979
This was the most recent eclipse to pass over parts of the United States. Sadly, weather in Portland was cloudy that day, thwarting hopeful viewers.
August 21st, 2017
This is the first time in U.S. history that the totality of an eclipse will be seen from coast to coast.
From Curiosity to Cost
How far are people willing to go, and how much will they spend, to see this eclipse?
Astronomers have anticipated this eclipse’s path of totality for decades. It cuts a swath 70 miles wide across the United States, making it among the most accessible eclipses ever. Oregon, in fact, is the closest place to view the eclipse for 27 million Americans.
We wanted to understand how Portland’s anticipated massive influx of visitors might affect two facets of Portland’s economy: airfares and the cost of Airbnb lodging.
First, we compared the cost of a round-trip ticket into PDX from San Francisco, Seattle and Charlotte for the eclipse weekend (August 18-22) against the following weekend (August 25-28).
Comparing Airbnb pricing across the same dates, we saw similar results.
Adding Things Up
How much more might a family of four spend traveling from San Francisco to Portland to see the eclipse?
For these reasons alone, we weren’t able to accurately estimate cost.