Thousands of visitors gathered at Homestead National Monument on Monday to witness the total solar eclipse.
One of those people generated more attention than most.
If you saw a crowd of people huddled close, with cell phones in hand ready to capture the perfect selfie, chances were Bill Nye "the Science Guy" was at the center of it.
Nye is the head of the Planetary Society and hosted a children’s show in the 1990s.
Nye, who previously hosted a presentation at Homestead in 2012, demonstrated throughout the morning on Monday how to properly view the eclipse. Methods included the preferred eclipse glasses, which many people brought, to the less conventional homemade viewers constructed of cardboard.
He described to the crowds just how rare solar eclipses are, and said for many it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It really is a spectacular thing,” he said. “It depends on what you call the next time, but this eclipse where you go from Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean, on estimate, is every 375 years. It’s probably the only one you’ll see unless some extraordinary advances are made in medicine.”
Nye has witnessed three other eclipses in his life, two partials and one total. He said the other total solar eclipse he witnessed occurred while he was in a jungle, where the landscape didn’t offer quite the same opportunity that Beatrice did. He said the flat area, with no hills to block the view, provided an optimal location.
He added the overwhelming interest in the eclipse across the nation and world highlights people’s natural curiosity and fascination with science. And while interest in science and spending for it fluctuates, Nye described it as a pendulum that will swing back around.
“When you say ‘Couldn’t we be spending that money somewhere else?’ Well, yeah,” he said. “But the fraction that we spend exploring space is tiny. If you stop exploring, it means you stopped being curious.”
Nye also said the economic impact would be clear and highlighted revolutionary changes brought forth by science, even here in Nebraska.
“The technology of agriculture has advanced so much just in my lifetime,” Nye said. “We grow so much more food. Just the corn stalks are so much closer together than when I was a kid because we developed these species of corn that grow that successfully, let alone genetically modifying the corn to resist pests.”
Nye stressed that science brings out the best in people and that when we explore the cosmos, we learn more about humanity’s place among the stars, while also advancing technology and academic achievements.
“It’s very reasonable that we will discover evidence of life on another world,” he said. “We might even find something still alive on Mars, or Europa, the moon of Jupiter with twice as much sea water as earth. In the same way that an eclipse is a profound thing - I claim that when you see a total eclipse, you’ll never forget it - if we discover life elsewhere, it would change human history.”