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At first, Bob Baer thought it had to be a hoax.

A man identifying himself as an astronomer had emailed to let him know about two eclipses that would cross the United States — one in 2017, the next in 2024. Carbondale, the small southern Illinois city where Baer was a physics professor, would be the only city at the center of both.

Disbelieving, Baer pulled up a NASA projection of future paths of totality — the places where the moon completely covers the sun during an eclipse. The lines crossed right over his city, like an X on a treasure map, marked by the shadow of the moon.

Three years later, Carbondale residents are still incredulous at their cosmic good fortune. The city has been badly in need of a break, ever since the recession and state budget crises cut enrollment at the local campus of Southern Illinois University nearly in half. With the region’s biggest employer in a tailspin, businesses shuttered and buildings fell into disrepair. The apartment vacancy rate was 35 percent. “This place was depressed,” Baer said.

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The eclipse capital of the U.S. is over the moon for Monday’s solar event

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