A total solar eclipse

The sun is in full eclipse over Grand Teton National Park on August 21, 2017 outside Jackson, Wyoming.

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

The Coming Eclipse Shines a Light on What Our Government Does for Us

While total eclipses are not common, what is common are the governmental institutions that provide services to make us safer and healthier, offer and maintain green space, and allow us to make giant leaps in knowledge.

As most people know, there is a total solar eclipse arriving next week, Monday, April 8, 2024. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration tells us we won’t see another one in the contiguous United States for another two decades (August 23, 2045).

The eclipse will be visible in its totality in a broad band that stretches, in the United States, from Texas to Maine.

For those looking for a place to view the eclipse, there are literally thousands of public spaces available, many with special programs surrounding the event.

Unlike an eclipse, government is an everyday occurrence—ubiquitous and yet often invisible.

That includes the many National Parks and Forests in the path, such as the Solar Eclipse Festival on the National Mall, presented in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in collaboration with the Smithsonian, NASA, NOAA, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The NSF is also sponsoring “Sun, Moon, and You Solar Eclipse Viewing Event” in downtown Dallas (free, but you’ve got to register). The Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri offers a handy list of best viewing spots within the forest.

Additional locations include state parks along that path with viewing opportunities and programs, such as those of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Arkansas State Parks, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Kentucky State Parks, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation, and New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Your local regional and municipal park might provide the perfect spot, close to home, and some are running programs in the days leading up to the eclipse, such as a ranger-led hike exploring how animals will react to the eclipse.

Of course, even those in the path of totality might have challenges seeing the eclipse clearly if there’s cloud cover. Luckily, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information has that covered with its interactive map.

If you’re planning to be above the clouds to see the eclipse in the skies, you might want to view this video produced by the Federal Aviation Administration and aimed at pilots, warning of larger than normal traffic of air craft and drones along the eclipse’s totality path, and limiting parking spots at runways.

Ground traffic and parking spots for cars can also slow eclipse viewers on their way to their viewing spots. For them, state and local officials have also provided portals for updates about ground traffic—spots for congestion and road closures to increase public safety.

You’ll want to keep it safe. NASA offers guidance on eye safety for viewing the eclipse, and state emergency management agencies are providing a wide range of tips to have a safe and enjoyable eclipse experience, with everything from taking care of pets to creating a family communications plan for those attending large events.

And even if you’re not in the path of totality, you still might get something out of the eclipse: NASA is launching sounding rockets to study disturbances in the ionosphere created when the moon eclipses the sun.

While total eclipses are not common, what is common are the governmental institutions and agencies at every level that provide services to make us safer and healthier, offer and maintain green space for mental health and recreation, and allow us to learn and make giant leaps in human knowledge.

We often rely on government, but we don’t always recognize its role. Unlike an eclipse, government is an everyday occurrence—ubiquitous and yet often invisible. But it is important, every now and then, to shed light on that role and remind us that government is—or at least should be—for and by all of us.

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