Most visitors who trek through the vast interior of the USA are in search of natural wonders on the ground. But on August 21, 2017, they’ll be in search of a natural wonder in the sky: a total solar eclipse.
This is the first total eclipse in nearly one hundred years with a path that extends across the entire country, from Oregon to South Carolina. USA Today summed it up simply: “the biggest and best solar eclipse in American history”.
An eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, turning day into night – in this case for up to 2 minutes, 40 seconds, depending on where you are. And where you are is imperative to viewing it in totality.
Here are a few tips for making the most of 2017’s solar eclipse:
Be in the band
The eclipse is sweeping across 14 US states, and numerous towns and cities lie in its path, including country music capital Nashville. But, keep in mind that to fully experience totality, you’ll need to be within the roughly 70-mile-wide band of the eclipse.
Find a place to stay
Hotel rooms in the main towns and cities on the eclipse path may have sold out by now, but numerous alternatives are popping up to accommodate the upsurge in visitors, including campgrounds, RV sites and local schools, as well as private ranches, farms and homes (via Airbnb and other sites).
Also, note that there are many towns and cities that sit off the totality track, but are within easy driving distance to viewing the total eclipse. Portland, for example, will be a convenient overnight base, as will Lincoln in Nebraska.
Be on time
The eclipse will arrive in the US on August 21 at around 10:15am on the coast of Oregon, and then continue across the country, exiting South Carolina at 2:49pm. For a map of the eclipse path, as well as exact eclipse times across all states, check out nationaleclipse.com.
See it safely
The only time that it’s safe to view the sun with the naked eye is during a total eclipse. At all other times, including every stage of a partial eclipse, you must wear protective eye gear, which includes eclipse glasses, welder goggles rated at 14 or higher, or a pinhole projector. Regular sunglasses and binoculars do not provide adequate protection. Look at the NASA site for more on safety.
Where to see the 2017 solar eclipse
Oregon: Salem, Willamette Valley, Madras
Want to be first in the world to see the eclipse of 2017? Head to Oregon. This is the first landmass to fall under the shadow of the moon, and the state is hosting a superb line-up of festivals and events.
The eclipse starts its path on the coast, but there may be morning fog here – the weather will likely be considerably clearer in the Willamette Valley and in Salem, where the eclipse will last 1 minute, 54 seconds.
The town of Madras, in the Cascade foothills, is hosting the four-day Oregon Solarfest, with music, camping and craft beer. NASA scientists will also lead interactive activities for kids.
Idaho: Snake River Valley, Craters of the Moon National Park
The eclipse passes through Snake River Valley, near the town of Weisner, as well as the lively city of Idaho Falls, where totality will last 1 minute, 48 seconds. Or, check this off your bucket list: at Craters of the Moon National Monument, experience the shadow of the moon while standing in terrain that looks just like it.
Wyoming: Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, Casper
Jackson Hole, with its spectacular valley ringed by mountain peaks, is a prime spot to catch the eclipse. Further east is the town of Casper, at over 5000ft above sea level, which is hosting the Wyoming Eclipse Festival, as well as the 2017 Astrocon, the annual national convention of the Astronomy League.
Nebraska: Sandhills, Tryon, Stapleton, Lincoln
Nebraska doesn’t just have some of the country’s longest cornfields, but it also has the longest path of eclipse totality. The moon’s shadow will travel diagonally across the Cornhusker State, soaring over the beautiful, rolling Sandhills of north central Nebraska, as well as numerous towns along the way, from tiny Tyron to the perimeter of the state capital of Lincoln.
Missouri: St Joseph, Columbia, Jefferson City
The total eclipse enters at the city of St Joseph – where it has one of the longest totalities, at 2 minutes, 38 seconds – and cuts clean across the state, through Missouri’s forests, plains and deep valleys, along with pockets of civilization, from Columbia to Jefferson City. Parts of Kansas City and St Louis, the state’s star cities, will fall under totality, but for relatively short periods (between 14 and 29 seconds).
Illinois: Murphysboro, Makanda, Carbondale, Marion
The eclipse only sweeps across the southern tip of the state, but Illinois can claim this superlative: the official longest point of totality – 2 minutes, 40 seconds – in Giant City State Park, near the town of Makanda. The closest city to Makanda is Carbondale, which will be abuzz with eclipse activity, including a viewing party at Southern Illinois University.
Kentucky: Hopkinsville, Paducah, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Kentucky has its own special distinction: the point of greatest eclipse – when the sun, moon, and Earth line up most perfectly – is near Hopkinsville. The town is duly celebrating with a variety of events – and a festival that’s wonderfully coincidental (or is it?): the Little Green Men Festival in Kelly-Hopkinsville, which commemorates a purported 1955 alien encounter on a local farm.
Tennessee: Nashville, Clarksville, Lebanon
Tennessee emerges as one of the best places on the planet to watch the eclipse for one music-soaked reason: Nashville. This is the largest city that lies in the path in totality. Here, for a very impressive 1 minute, 57 seconds, country music and celestial wonders come together. The city is putting on a big party, including eclipse-themed festivals and concerts.
South Carolina: Greenville, Greenwood, Columbia, McClellanville
Oregon gets the first view of the eclipse – and South Carolina the last. The moon’s shadow creeps across the state, and after passing the last city in its path, McClellanville, it departs American soil seven seconds after 2:49pm on August 21, 2017.
If you miss it, there’s always next time…
The beauty of the solar system is that it’s cyclical. If you miss this eclipse, start planning for the next one. On April 8, 2024, a total eclipse will soar over Mexico, entering America at Texas and then making its way to Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada.