The last solar eclipse to cross the entire United States, from Washington to Florida, happened in 1918, but it’ll happen again in under a month.
On Aug. 21, the “Great American Eclipse” — when the moon passes between the sun and Earth and either fully or partly blocks sunlight — will have Americans standing in the shadow of the moon for about three minutes, depending where they are. This solar eclipse got its name because the USA is the only country that will experience it. States receiving the best views include Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Tennessee and South Carolina. Some cities are planning full-out parties for the event, and solar-eclipse experts suggest planning ahead for this rare opportunity.
The entire country, including people in Alaska and Hawaii, will be able to observe the eclipse. For most Americans, all they will have to do is walk outside and look up, said Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s helophysics science division. “That is a phenomenon that most Americans have never lived,” she said. But it will be more dramatic for some than others. For the 12 million in the path of this eclipse — and the millions more who live within striking distance — the view will be more like night and day when the moon blocks the sun. It will look more like a crescent, and the sun won’t be totally covered in other areas.
Viewers should begin their trip planning now if they have not already, picking a place they can see for a couple days — preferably arriving a day or two before Aug. 21 to prevent traffic — but also trying to stay mobile in case of inclement weather or overcrowding, according to Michael Zeiler and Polly White, a husband-and-wife duo that chases solar eclipses and runs and “The Great American Eclipse” website.
‘People are going to feel a real visceral connection with the world they have never felt before.’
Viewers should also purchase solar-eclipse glasses, which protect eyes from sunlight. NASA says glasses ought to be certified, have the company’s name and address printed on them, not be over three years old or have scratched lenses, and not be reliant on homemade filters or substitute lenses on regular sunglasses. White and Zeiler market these glasses, and they’re also available from independent retailers and on Amazon
If this is your first time viewing a solar eclipse, it is best to put down the smartphone, avoid trying to take pictures if it’ll mean fiddling with filters and overlooking the sight beforehand, and relish this naturally beautiful event, White said. “People are going to feel a real visceral connection with the world they have never felt before,” Zeiler said. NASA also has a list of actions families and individuals can partake in during the eclipse, such as science experiments and art projects.
Zeiler and White advocate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina (especially Clingmans Dome on the Tennessee–North Carolina border, according to the National Park Service website), where you can also see log cabins built by pioneers settling the region from the 1820s. They also state the Snake River Valley in Idaho; the Sandhills of western Nebraska; St. Joseph, Mo.; and Hopkinsville, Ky., are prime spots to see the solar eclipse.
Listed below are five of the best cities to see the eclipse, based on Zeiler and White:
Visitors to this high-desert Oregon town can observe the solar eclipse and observe for days after. For the weekend leading up to Aug. 21, the city is having a Solarfest festival, with aircraft sets and a concert series, in partnership with NASA. Nearby, visitors can go to Indian Head Casino, have a whiskey-tasting session, take a helicopter tour of the region or ride at a hot-air balloon. Tickets for the festival include $10 to $60 per person, and people who see Madras can also find camping, parking and shuttle information on the website. The eclipse begins around 9:06 a.m. but has two full minutes of darkness at 10:19 a.m.
This town is hosting “Astrocon 2017,” complete with a viewing party on the afternoon of, but also a “Pluto Run 10K Race” on Saturday, Aug. 19, visits to the Casper Planetarium and other museums and craft shows and beer gardens to watch (as well as petting zoos and carnival games). Visitors will be able to observe the eclipse for 2 minutes and 26 seconds, beginning at 10:22 a.m. and reaching totality around 11:43 a.m.
For 2 minutes and 38 seconds, visitors to Carbondale, Ill., will be able to observe the solar eclipse fully at 1:20 p.m (but beginning at 1:17 p.m.). The town’s “Shadow Fest” features live music from tribute bands for Green Day, Fleetwood Mac and U2. Local restaurants and vendors will be selling their merchandise at the festival. Nearby at Southern Illinois University, the student center will be putting on a comic convention during the weekend, with gambling areas and a costume contest.
The Music City is prepared for the solar eclipse, and even has a play list for the event on its website. The eclipse begins at 11:58 a.m. and will be in totality in 1:27 p.m. for 1 minute and 55 seconds. Public viewing sites for the eclipse include the Mayor’s Viewing Party at First Tennessee Park, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the Grand Ole Opry and the Lane Motor Museum. Visitors can check out holiday packages, including a minimum one-night stay at one of 99 participating hotels and a Nashville Solar Eclipse Gift Bag, which includes eclipse viewing glasses, as well as a Music City Note picnic blanket and a T-shirt voucher.
Visitors to Columbia, S.C., will be able to see the complete eclipse for 2 minutes and 36 seconds at 2:41 p.m. on Aug. 21. Events include plays composed by six local playwrights and tent camping available near Lake Murray, where a limited number of viewers can watch the eclipse over the water. Speakers will discuss the history of solar eclipses, and there’ll be food and walking tours. Columbia will have the longest viewing of the eclipse on the East Coast.
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