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The Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Solar Eclipse

On August 21, darkness will descend on a 70-mile wide strip across the United States during the total solar eclipse.  Already lauded as the Great American Eclipse, this will be the first eclipse visible in the United States since February 26, 1979.  The visibility from coast to coast is the first of its kind in 99 years.

Either way you slice it, it’s time to start preparing.  Use this Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Solar Eclipse to ensure you have an epic experience.

Solidify Your Travel Plans

solar eclipse path across the united states map

Photo cred: Eclipse2017.org

The map above shows the path of the eclipse from West Coast to East Coast.  The shaded areas will be able to see the full solar eclipse, (weather permitting of course.)  The surrounding areas of the United States and Canada will be able to see a partial eclipse.  Use this awesome interactive map to see the visibility and specific times for the location you select.

If you are planning to travel for the eclipse, make sure your flights, accommodations, car rentals, and any other necessities are booked.  Oregon’s Attorney General warns tourists to call and confirm reservations to avoid cancellations and price gouging.

Incidents have occurred where hotels cancelled reservations made long ago in order to sell rooms for higher prices.  Even trailer sites in campgrounds are going for astronomical prices.

Things are starting to get a bit crazy in the states that will have the best visibility for the solar eclipse. For example, Oregon’s Governor called in the National Guard to help manage the influx of tourism forecast for the weekend of the eclipse. Oregon anticipates up to a million visitors for this once in a lifetime event.

If the National Guard is not needed to direct traffic and ‘put out fires,’ they can help fight wildfires instead.

Pick Your Viewing Spot

solar eclipse stages from partial to totality

Photo cred: Sky & Telescope

Where will you actually be at the time of the eclipse?  Consider whether or not you want to be amongst the crowds or in a more peaceful setting.  Atop a mountain, on the water, on your yoga mat, or amongst family and friends at an eclipse party.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky will be hosting an Eclipse Con, a Comic Con the weekend of the eclipse.  In accordance with its reputation as Music City, Nashville will be holding a music festival for the eclipse. Or you can join the American Atheist National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina.

For areas on the path of totality, the partial eclipse will begin to be visible an hour before darkness.  On the West Coast, (in Salem, OR) the partial eclipse will start at 9:04 a.m. and the sun will be completely obscured at 10:18 a.m. local time.

The total eclipse will last for around two minutes depending on where you are.  The maximum point of the eclipse is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where totality will last the longest: 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  The last location of the total eclipse on the East Coast (Charleston, SC) will occur at 2:47 p.m. local time.

Protect Your Eyes

During the estimated 2 minutes of totality, when the moon’s shadow obscures the sun, you will be able to view and photograph the solar eclipse without eye protection.  However, make sure you do not look at the sun before or after totality.

As the moon comes into position, there will be beads of light called Baily’s Beads, light shining through the valleys along the moon’s horizon.  Then, these beads will converge into a single bright diamond spot.  Do not remove your eyewear until these beads and the spot disappear, as these are enough to cause the eye damage or blindness that results from looking directly at the sun.

When the period of totality is nearing its end, a crescent of light will begin to appear around the opposite side of the moon.  This is your signal to put your eclipse glasses or other eye protection back on. (Source: NASA.gov)

To view the solar eclipse before and after totality, or to view a partial solar eclipse, you have a few options.  If you have a fancy telescope with the correct filter then you are good to go.  Alternatively, you can order Solar Eclipse Glasses, project through a telescope viewer or binoculars onto a sheet of paper, or make a DIY pinhole projector.

Enjoy the Solar Eclipse

total solar eclipse

Photo cred: Lucnix.be

During the solar eclipse, darkness will descend across the land.  Birds will go quiet, temperatures will cool, and a moment of magic will begin.  Stars and planets will appear in the middle of the day.  Look out for Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus.  Trace your favorite constellation.

Watch for pink or flame-colored spots around the circumference.  These are called solar prominences, and are caused by dense clouds of ionized gas erupting off the sun’s surface.  These incandescent gas clouds boing from the sun’s chromosphere (lowest layer of the sun’s atmosphere) to its corona (outermost layer of plasma), and are believed to be caused by magnetic forces.  These prominences can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours.  (Source: Britannica.com)

Now that you’re an eclipse expert, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the event of a lifetime!

Read More: Solar Eclipse: Top Ten Reasons to See the Great American Eclipse

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