Pelland Blog

Look to the Skies for Greater Occupancy

March 15th, 2024

You are probably aware that there will be a total solar eclipse visible across much of the United States and Eastern Canada on April 8, 2024. Entering the United States from Mexico, according to NASA, the path of totality will extend through portions of the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Some of the major American cities that will experience totality include Dallas, Idabel (Oklahoma), Little Rock, Poplar Bluff, Paducah, Evansville, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Burlington, Lancaster (New Hampshire) and Caribou (Maine). If you have a resort anywhere along this path, you should already be preparing to welcome an influx of guests, even if it means opening your park prior to the normal start of your season.

Celestial events of this nature present an enormous opportunity for tourism draw. One of my clients near Erie, Pennsylvania was sold out 6 months in advance, and the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing has devoted an entire page of its website toward promoting what is essentially eclipse tourism.

Nighttime Events

Total solar eclipses are not that frequent an occurrence. In fact, the next total solar eclipse that will be visible from within the contiguous United States will not be until August 23, 2044. It is too soon to plan 20 years in advance, but there are plenty of other, far more frequent upcoming celestial events that your park can promote in 2024. Everybody knows that there are no guarantees when an event involves the weather; however, you need to honestly evaluate whether your park actually offers dark skies if you are going to be promoting nighttime celestial events. This not only means that your park is far enough away from city lights, but you must also ensure that there is no light pollution emanating from within your campground itself, which involves such things as persuading guests to turn off exterior lighting and to agree not to drive around the park after dark.

Learning how our eyes react to light is as much an educational opportunity as the celestial events themselves. For example, if you have a viewing area in an open field, guests need to understand that even one person entering the area with a bright lantern is going to temporarily diminish the viewing capability of every person within that field. A burst of light from a ground source will cause people’s pupils to go from a state of dilation (allowing in a greater amount of light, allowing the viewing of dimmer sky objects) to a temporary state of miosis (reducing the ability to see dimmer sources of light), where the recovery period will likely be several minutes. A small headlamp or flashlight with a red lens or LED will be more than adequate for walking while having minimal impact upon other guests.

The brightness of celestial objects is measured using a magnitude scale that was devised by ancient Greek astronomers, where the brightest objects have the smallest numbers and the faintest objects have the largest numbers. As examples, the full moon has a magnitude of -10, whereas the faintest star visible to the James Webb Space Telescope has a magnitude of +34. In a truly dark sky setting on Earth, the human eye can see stars and other sky objects that are as dim as magnitude +6, whereas the dimmest star visible in a typical city would be at magnitude +3.

Lunar Events

Lunar eclipses can be visible somewhere on the planet between 2 and 5 times per year, always when the moon is in its full phase. As with solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses are the most impressive. Lunar eclipses, sometimes called blood moons or red moons, are visible over a much wider area because they are much slower processes than their solar counterparts. There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse on March 25, 2024 and a partial lunar eclipse on September 18, 2024, but the next total lunar eclipse will not be visible in North America until September 7, 2025. Supermoons are full moons that appear larger than most, due to their elliptical orbit coming closer to the Earth, a term referred to as perigee. Supermoons will occur on September 18, October 17, and November 15, 2024.


Viewing of a lunar eclipse is less prone to the aforementioned issues of light pollution, due to the brightness of the moon, but dark skies are essential if your guests are to enjoy the viewing of a meteor shower or a passing comet. Although most of us are familiar with Halley’s Comet, which approaches our planet every 76 years, the arrival of comets is mostly unpredictable, sometimes presenting spectacular (and sometimes disappointing) opportunities, particularly when viewed with the naked eye or small telescopes. Halley’s Comet was a remarkable sight in 1910, less dramatic in 1986, and could be impressive again in 2061, but that is – once again – far off in the future. Comets that are expected to be visible to the naked eye in 2024 include Pons-Brooks in March and April and Tsuchinshan-ATLAS in October. Without a telescope or binoculars, many comets look somewhat like fuzzy stars, but Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS has the potential to be spectacular. That is one you should be promoting!

Meteor Showers

Meteors are generally formed by the dust trails of comets. Meteor showers, where the Earth passes through a cloud of such dust, follow a rather predictable schedule, but their impact from year to year can be truly hit or miss. Once again, dark skies are essential. The most reliable meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere in 2024 include the Quadrantids which peak on January 3-4, the Perseids which peak on August 12-13, and the Geminids which peak on December 13-14. In Northern states, the Perseids are always the main attraction, with their appearance during the summer season. Meteor showers are most impressive when there is no moon in the sky to drown them out with its brighter light, and meteors are easily viewed with the naked eye. In fact, due to their swift appearance, binoculars and telescopes are of no use.

Make it an event!

Particularly if a comet is going to be visible, invite a local amateur astronomy club to come to your campground. These clubs are usually seeking to increase their membership, and they will bring telescopes that your guests, both old and young, can look through. A state-by-state directory of local astronomy clubs can be found on the Love the Night Sky website. Next, promote the event to ensure full occupancy, referring to my recent post on this topic.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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