A welcome sign on the outskirts of Stanley states the official population of the Custer County community is 63. That number will temporarily swell in the coming days from the expected rush of visitors hoping to see the total solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21. For millions of people who aren't along the "path of totality" but still want to see it, one visitor will make that possible. Slooh, a Connecticut-based online observatory company, will set up its base of operations in Stanley, training its powerful telescopes on the sun. Slooh will then beam the images across the globe, in part by sharing them through Reddit, The Weather Channel and the ABC, BBC and CNN networks.
"This eclipse is going to be one of those events when people all across the world are going to be watching whether they are able to be there live, watching it in person or watching it on a screen," said Michelle Meskill, a Slooh spokeswoman.
Slooh.com was founded in 2004 with a mission of "connecting humanity through communal exploration of the universe." Today, the site has more than 80,000 international members. Memberships range from $5 to $25 per month and allow users to book sessions in which they can control state-of-the-art Slooh telescopes located in Chile and the Canary Islands. Additionally, Slooh has a giant mobile observatory that travels around the world for major celestial events. To date, Slooh has streamed previous solar eclipses from its mobile observatory in Indonesia, Kenya and the Faroe Islands. The Aug. 21 eclipse will be the first time Slooh has set up shop in Idaho.
"Stanley is right on the path of totality; it's going to have a good two minutes of total darkness," said Meskill. "The weather is also supposed to be really good there. Clear skies [are] important."
On its journey from Connecticut to Idaho, the Slooh mobile observatory will visit planetariums and science centers. On Friday, Aug. 18, Slooh astronomer Paul Cox will deliver a free lecture at the Stanley Museum and will be one of a number of astronomers commenting when Slooh livestreams the eclipse. During the broadcast, which is scheduled to begin when the moon first starts passing across the sun, Slooh will also share live footage from the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch in Stanley and the Elk Creek Campground in the Sawtooth National Forest.
The Elk Creek Campground is hosting its own eclipse festival Friday, Aug. 18 through Tuesday, Aug. 22. The event will be free to Slooh members.
"We're going to have yoga and meditation every day, and we'll have some live music from a reggae blues band on Saturday and Sunday," said Meskill. "There will be people teaching landscape photography and putting on workshops for photographing the eclipse. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Slooh is expected to host more than 200 guests at the campground, with visitors coming from as far away as Australia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Bob Berman, a veteran astronomer for the Old Farmer's Almanac and one of the experts who will participate in the Slooh broadcast, said he isn't at all surprised to hear people are coming from far and wide to Stanley.
"A total solar eclipse is so rare. There is nothing else on this earth that compares," said Berman. "It is sacred. A total solar eclipse is ... beyond anything we experience on this earth."
That rare experience is why officials at the Stanley Chamber of Commerce are preparing for an unprecedented number of visitors.
"Honestly, we have no idea how many people are coming up to Stanley. It could be 2,000 or it could well be 25,000," said Ellen Libertine at the Stanley Chamber.
Either way, preparations have been underway for months.
"We're trying to think about problems before they come," said Libertine. "We know we are going to have problems on the roads. We know we are going to have problems with the telephone cell service."
Despite some nervousness about the unknown, Libertine said Stanley citizens are pretty upbeat about the event.
"We're particularly excited Slooh chose to be in Stanley," she said. "It is an amazing thing that they do, and we never knew anything about them before Slooh contacted us. It made us say, 'Wow, people all over the world will be watching from here.'"