Asa StahlApr 18, 2024

At Eclipse-O-Rama, cosmic beauty and community

As darkness fell, the entire crowd — hundreds of people — went silent with concentration, straining to see through the thick clouds. For a moment, the only sound was the eerie, rushing wind.

Then the clouds parted. Cheers erupted at the sight of the eclipse. Bill Nye, standing among the crowd, looked up and gasped.

“Oh,” he sighed, “it’s as if by magic…”

Even before totality, spirits were high at Eclipse-O-Rama 2024. Members of The Planetary Society had come to a ranch outside Fredericksburg, Texas, not just to marvel at the total solar eclipse, but for community and adventure. People from all over the world gathered to explore and celebrate their love of space, goals that had nothing to do with how the weather turned out.

The view from Eclipse-O-Rama 2024
The view from Eclipse-O-Rama 2024 Attendees at Eclipse-O-Rama gaze up at the Sun just minutes before totality near Fredericksburg, Texas.Image: Merc Boyan for The Planetary Society

The festival was a place to learn and connect with like-minded people, “to be part of something much, much bigger,” said Adam Romero, an attendee from Folsom, California. “As soon as we noticed The Planetary Society was doing something like this,” he added, “we had to jump on it.”

Attendees came together to share their interests, discover new things about space, and just hang out and have fun. On the festival’s acres of grassy ranchland, amid fields of wildflowers and cattle, people shared “love stories” of how they first became passionate about space. They played games, watched movies, and gathered around telescopes to view the moons of Jupiter and the Orion nebula.

In a glass-walled chapel — typically meant for weddings — attendees packed the room to hear talks by Planetary Society scientists Bethany Ehlmann, Heidi Hammel, and Bruce Betts. Each speaker focused on one of the Society’s three main priorities in turn, updating members on the latest in planetary defense, exploration, and the search for life.

Space talks at Eclipse-O-Rama 2024
Space talks at Eclipse-O-Rama 2024 Heidi Hammel, astronomer and vice president of The Planetary Society, gives a talk to attendees as Eclipse-O-Rama near Fredericksburg, Texas.Image: Merc Boyan for The Planetary Society

Planetary Society staff and members had the pleasure of mingling more casually, too. Throughout the eclipse, Planetary Radio host Sarah Al-Ahmed rubbed shoulders with the crowd and interviewed anyone eager to share their story. Digital community manager Ambre Trujillo made videos with kids at the activity tent. Astronomer and Planetary Society vice president Heidi Hammel, who brought her family to Eclipse-O-Rama, shared a game of space bingo with other members.

For Avry Anderson, an attendee from Boise, Idaho, the opportunity to engage with the team was one of the highlights of Eclipse-O-Rama, especially as a listener of Planetary Radio. “Just seeing all these faces I’ve only ever heard,” he said, “it’s very exciting.”

Every attendee also had the chance to meet Bill Nye, The Planetary Society’s CEO, and a select few had the chance to do even more. Valerie Sinha of Houston, Texas, won a sweepstakes through Planetary Society partner Prizeo that put her on stage watching the eclipse beside Bill Nye. She also shared a meal with other team members, such as Heidi Hammel and senior communications adviser Mat Kaplan.

Bill Nye signing at Eclipse-O-Rama 2024
Bill Nye signing at Eclipse-O-Rama 2024 Bill Nye sits with an Eclipse-O-Rama attendee and autographs their space artwork. Image taken near Fredericksburg, Texas.Image: Merc Boyan for The Planetary Society

“They're incredibly wonderful, kind people,” Sinha said. “This has been absolutely a blast.”

Eclipse-O-Rama reached many more people than just those who were there in person. The event was featured on CNN with Anderson Cooper, CBS News, and The Weather Channel. Tim Dodd (The Everyday Astronaut) live-streamed the eclipse to hundreds of thousands of online viewers. And over a quarter of a million people used The Eclipse App — developed in a collaboration between The Planetary Society and The Eclipse Company — to count down to totality.

When that countdown hit zero and the clouds parted over Eclipse-O-Rama, everyone present shared a moment of joy, beauty, and awe.

And then it was over. People shook their heads in disbelief. “Amazing” was the word on everybody’s lips. A chant began for “Spain, 2026!” — one of the sites of the next total solar eclipse.

Stephanie Abrams, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, wiped tears from her eyes. “Listen, this is my third eclipse now,” she said. “This was the most vibrant one I’ve ever seen.”

Let’s Go Beyond The Horizon

Every success in space exploration is the result of the community of space enthusiasts, like you, who believe it is important. You can help usher in the next great era of space exploration with your gift today.

Donate Today