On August 21st the first transcontinental total solar eclipse in 99 years will cast a shadow across fourteen states, bisecting the country from Oregon to South Carolina. For most people seeing a total solar eclipse is an awe-inspiring, once in lifetime opportunity.
What you can expect to happen during the eclipse is the moon to slowly cover the sun as day turns into night the temperature will start to drop and the sky will transform into a deep twilight, surrounding viewers with a 360-degree sunset.
While everyone in North America will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, the best place to see the solar eclipse is in the path of totality, which is a 70-mile wide swath running across the continent, kind of like Hands Across America but with more science and less kumbaya. The path of totality, which is a phrase you’ll be hearing a lot, is the path that the moon’s shadow traces on the Earth during a total eclipse.
A good rule of thumb is the closer you are to the path of totality the more complete the eclipse, but unless you are in the path of totality, you won’t have the full eclipse experience. Being in the path of totality is the only place you can remove your eclipse glasses and see the full effect of the moon blotting out the sun.
NASA estimates that 500 million people will watch the eclipse across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe and that it will be the most watched and photographed eclipse in human history.
Hey, Where Did the Sun Go?
There are a few things worth knowing about eclipses. A total eclipse of the sun, which is somewhat different than a total eclipse of the heart, happens when the new moon lines up exactly between the Earth and the sun.
The partial phase of the eclipse can last up to three hours as the moon starts to move across the sun, but the total eclipse will only last for a few minutes, depending on where you’re watching. The longest duration for the 2017 eclipse will be 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
Because the moon’s shadow is traveling around 1800 miles per hour, you’re not going to be able to hot rod across the country following the eclipse, although who could blame you for trying. So you’re best off finding one place to view the entire event.
It’s been said that as the sky darkens some nocturnal animals may start to come out, thinking dusk has arrived; which also means it’s possible that some old people will complain about missing Jeopardy.
How to Watch the Eclipse Without Frying Your Eyeballs
One thing NASA and everyone else makes very clear is that it is dangerous to look directly at the eclipse without special eclipse glasses and that doing so can cause damage to your eyes. NASA has even put out a warning that some people are distributing unsafe paper solar eclipse glasses.
They recommend using glasses from certified manufacturers. They also recommend against using glasses if the lenses have scratches, are wrinkled, or older than three years. Here’s a link to recommended paper and plastic glasses on Amazon.
For Good Pictures Don’t Just Point & Shoot
Taking good pictures of the eclipse is about more than pointing your camera into the sky and pressing a button. If you’re going to try and get pictures of the actual eclipse you need to have a solar filter on your camera or telescope. The filter needs to stay on during the partial phases of the eclipse but should come off during the totality phase if you are trying to take pictures of the sun’s corona.
Nikon recommends practicing with your setup before the eclipse, noting “it is common for photographers to become easily distracted when viewing this phase [totality] of the solar eclipse, so much so that you forget to make pictures.” Both Nikon and Mr. Eclipse have guides for taking pictures of the eclipse with lots of helpful information. Here’s a link to solar filters on Amazon.
Where to Watch the Eclipse
There’s obviously a lot of places to watch an event that is 70 miles wide and spans the entire continental U.S and since many of the small towns in the path of totality have been planning events and activities for years, there are lots of fun places to watch the eclipse.
There will be a plethora of festivals, markets, and talks from scientists about the eclipse. It also seems like every cover band in America has been booked to play an eclipse festival, almost as if having a cover band playing a festival is like seeing the real thing, only indirectly, as if you’re looking at the real band through a small piece of paper with a hole in it.
So the real question isn’t whether or not you should see the eclipse, it is what kind of experience do you want to have? Do you want to be in the mountains; or on the plains; or on a train in the Smokey Mountains, which unfortunately is sold out. Personally, I like the idea of going somewhere with a festival and events that help make the whole trip an experience.
Since the eclipse moves from west to east, so does our list of the best places to watch the 2017 total solar eclipse.
In central Oregon, you can pay $1,500 to go glamping and an extra $50 if you want to bring your pet, who is not allowed to join you at the fairgrounds. In addition to glamping and professional street performers, Solarfest has three days of music that includes cover bands Petty Fever (Tom Petty), Aerosmith Rocks (Aerosmith), Jukebox Heroes (Foreigner), and Barracuda who is listed as the essential tribute to the band Heart.
One of the more picturesque places to watch the eclipse looks like the Wind River area in Wyoming. The potential viewing areas include classic western landscapes and the chance to see the eclipse from the top of a mountain.
With activities including gold mine and petroglyph tours, multiple art shows, and a buffalo BBQ, Wind River is advertising itself as a place to ”immerse yourself in Native American culture and Western history while the moon passes before the sun.”
The state of Nebraska is emphasizing its vast open sky and low light pollution (e.g. no one lives here) as reasons why people should watch the eclipse there, noting that in Nebraska you don’t have to worry about a skyscraper getting in your way. With the path of the eclipse running across the entire state, there are lots of towns hosting events throughout the weekend.
In addition to music and breakfast with “the astronaut” they’re offering special prison tours of the “bloodiest 47 acres in America,” a Hotter n Hell 5K Fun Run, and Crop Circle Corn Maze. All of which raises so many questions, like how do other astronauts feel about Mike Hopkins being called “the astronaut,” and can a Hotter n Hell run be family friendly, and are there 47 acres somewhere else in America asking for a recount?
Located a few miles north of the point of greatest duration, Carbondale is one of the places NASA is live streaming the eclipse from. Over the weekend the town has a couple of festivals, a marketplace, and their first comic con.
Hopkinsville is going all out; they’ve got their own hashtag (#eclipseville), the Summer Salute Festival, Eclipse Con, and a mashoree celebrating Kentucky bourbon and distillers. It’s probably not a good idea to go straight from the mashoree to watching the eclipse, although I’m pretty sure it’s what I’d do.
Nashville is a good choice if you’re looking for somewhere easy to fly in and out of or if you want to make your eclipse watching a smaller part of a longer trip. There are a few special events happening in Nashville and as the largest metropolitan area within the path of totality, there will be a lot going on in a city that has an excellent reputation for food, drink, and music.
As one of the larger metro areas in the path of totality Columbia will have over 100 events going on during Total Eclipse Weekend. If you get into town by Friday, you can participate in a Historic Happy Hour Water Balloon Battle, where you learn about military tactics before relaxing with drinks and light appetizers and I assume reminiscing about how water balloon battles used to be much more civilized.
There also will be a performance of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon by some of Columbia’s “most talented” musicians and lots of events centered around food and drink, including the release of Blackout Beer by Benford Brewing.
If you can’t make it to somewhere in the path of totality, there are a couple of apps that will let you live stream the eclipse.
Want to learn more about the eclipse check out these resources.
Mark is Umami's publisher