The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

American eclipses are about to be made great again! It's been about 38 years since there's been a total solar eclipse over the American mainland. And that one just grazed the northwest and northern plains before turning traitor and curving up into Canada. This time around, the path of totality runs essentially through the middle of the entire width of the continental United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be one of the most witnessed total solar eclipses in history.
  • When: Monday, August 21st (exact times vary based on your location... more below)
  • Where: An approximately 70-mile wide path that cuts through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
  • Greatest Eclipse: Near Hopkinsville, Kentucky
  • Longest Eclipse: Near Carbondale, Illinois
  • Eclipse Length
    • Shortest: West coast of Oregon at about 1 minute 58 seconds
    • Longest: Southern Illinois at about 2 minutes 41 seconds
How is all the above information known with such accuracy? Because Newton, Copernicus, Einstein and others were correct and science works!

So, you might be asking yourself, "OK, the eclipse path is long and goes through the whole country, but where should I go to view it?" It's a reasonable question but with the days quickly ticking away, you better get crackin' on your plans!

Here's a map to help you plan. Click the link in the caption to view the full, interactive map.

Xavier Jubier's eclipse overlay for Google Maps
A great tool to see the eclipse path and determine where you should go to view it is Xavier Jubier's overlay for Google Maps. It shows the path of totality and gives you a ton of important information for any location.
Click here to view it.

Just about everywhere that's in the path of totality and has some publicly available accommodations is booked, and probably has been for months. Places like Corvallis and Madras (OR), Idaho Falls (ID), Jackson and Casper (WY), Lincoln (NE), Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis (MO), Carbondale (IL), Nashville (TN), and Hopkinsville (KY) will be absolutely packed with tourists. If you don't already have plans to be in one of those locations, I recommend avoiding them.

If you have yet to formalize your eclipse-viewing plans, I'd recommend locating an area along the path of totality that you can travel to and that doesn't have a large, nearby population center. Then, find accommodations within 100 miles or so. On the morning of the eclipse, leave very early to get to your specific viewing spot (use the map above to find a good location that you can get to). Include a buffer of at least 2-3 hours to account for unusually heavy traffic and unexpected road closures. You may even want to consider leaving the night before and camping or sleeping in your vehicle at your intended viewing location (so long as it's safe and legal to do so).

Since the weather is variable, you also need to have a plan B and C. Once you've picked your spot, try to find two or three other locations that aren't too terribly far away (but far enough away that the cloud conditions should be different) that you can get to within a few hours (maybe up to about 6 hours). Track what the weather is doing at each of your chosen locations for several days before the eclipse. Two to three days before the eclipse, watch the weather forecasts closely. The morning BEFORE the day of the eclipse, finalize your location selection and prepare for your travel to the center line (if you haven't done so already, fill up on gas, gather snacks and beverages, and charge your camera batteries). Then, be ready to switch to plan B or C as needed.

How much eclipse you see depends on where you are. How long it lasts also depends on where you are. What time it starts also depends on where you are. With so many variables, how is a non-astronomer supposed to figure out where to go and when to look? Try an app. Eclipse Safari lets you see eclipse conditions (not weather conditions but the eclipse start time, percentage of the sun that will be blocked, duration, etc.) from your current location or just about any other location.

Everyone in the continental US will be able to see varying degrees of a partial eclipse. If you think seeing 70% of the sun eclipsed will be almost as amazing as seeing the total eclipse, think again. The difference between the experience of a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is night and day... almost literally. With a partial eclipse, the natural daylight changes but only slightly, almost imperceptibly. During a total eclipse, on the other hand, the blinding brightness of daylight becomes more like deep dusk, as though the sun has set, leaving a golden horizon in all directions. A few brighter planets and stars become visible to the naked eye, and wildlife often react as though they too sense something unique is happening.

What should you do, bring, look at, notice? All you have to do is bring your eyes, but if you want to enjoy a fuller experience, get yourself some solar glasses so you can view the partial phase of the eclipse and anticipate totality. YOU DO NOT NEED TO WEAR ANY EYE PROTECTION DURING TOTALITY. This is the period that lasts only about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. At all other times YOU MUST WEAR EYE PROTECTION or just don't look at the sun directly. During totality, the entire "surface" of the sun is covered by the moon so there is no risk of eye damage from ultraviolet light. In fact, if you wear solar glasses during totality, you will miss the most spectacular aspects of a total solar eclipse.

This image from Alson Wong shows what's called the Diamond Ring. If the eclipse is starting and you see this, it's time to take off your solar glasses. If the eclipse is ending and you see this, it's time to put the solar glasses back on! Photo: Alson Wong, 2008 total solar eclipse from Weizixia, China.

Check the Internet for other ways to view the eclipse such as pinhole "cameras" and watching the umbra approach and recede. The spectacle of the sun and moon together in the sky are just part of the experience. Be sure to look around, take note of your surroundings, watch how other people and wildlife react. It's all part of the full experience. Be safe. Plan well. Have fun!

Here are some additional resources for viewing and planning for the eclipse:

Lunt Solar Glasses on Amazon
Sources for solar glasses may become scarce as 8/21 approaches. If you experience trouble finding solar glasses or they can't be delivered in time, look instead for welder's glass #14 (this is the glass that goes in a welder's helmet so he or she isn't blinded by the sparks and can instead see the joint to be welded). Be sure it's #14! That's the darkest welder's glass available and is the only one that should be used for viewing the partial phase of a solar eclipse!
Mr. Eclipse (Fred Espenak) Interview with Fred Espenak Where to See the Eclipse
Eclipse Path Overlay on Google Maps (by Xavier Jubier)