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'This is a world event'

This is bigger than the Olympics. Be prepared, Svalbard, astrophysicist Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard says. FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

'This is a world event'

Astrophysicist Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard is recommending people in Longyearbyen prepare well for the total solar eclipse on March 20 of next year.

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Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard doesn't hesitate to call next year's total solar eclipse, which will be best seen from Svalbard, a world event.

"I have not completely assessed things yet, but I presume that there will be a reasonably large amount of pressure from people who want to come to Svalbard to experience that for themselves," the astrophysicist said.


'Bigger than the Olympics'

To illustrate how big a total solar eclipse is in the right circles, Røed Ødegaard described the situation where there was an eclipse in Beijing in 2009.

"The year before I was there to do some preparations," he said. "It was when the Olympics were in town, but it was pretty quiet nevertheless. The following year, during the event, it was totally insane conditions. The roads were corked with traffic and it was almost impossible to move anywhere."

Is he saying a total solar eclipse is bigger than the Olympics?

"For some it is definitely that," Røed Ødegaard said. "The special feature with next year's eclipse is that it will be seen at its absolute best from Svalbard and with that comes an increase in pressure on the local community."


Planning
Røed Ødegaard has already been to Svalbard multiple times to prepare for what will happen next year. He has created a special website for the event and plans to publish photos of the eclipse. Aside from that, there is little that is planned.

"It absolutely is beginning to be the time for the local community to plan for this," he said. "We already know that this is happening at a time of year when it can be very cold and that in itself can be a challenge."

Is there a risk people will come to Svalbard without a plan for shelter and other necessities?

"It might actually happen," Røed Ødegaard said. "Now the influx of people will limit itself automatically with the airlines' capacity, but I'm reasonably sure that it gets crowded in Longyearbyen these days."

Key people in the local community met for the first time two weeks ago to prepare for next year's celestial phenomenon. Roed Odegaard said he believes it may be appropriate to discuss accommodations for visitors.

"I have previously discussed opening the sports hall and other places to take away the impact," he said. "But as of now that has been left idle. There is one year left until the eclipse, so maybe it is time to bring out the ideas again."


'Must discuss the politics'
Lene Villumsen, a Bipartisan Party member of Longyearbyen's Municipal Council, said she intends to raise the matter in the near future.

"We urgently need to discuss at the political level how we will handle this," she said. "As far as I know we have not discussed it at all. What is clear is that it concerns a lot of people and maybe a lot of money as well. A year seems like a long time, but it goes by faster than you think."

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