For the first time in nearly four decades, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the mainland United States!
Even most backyard astronomers have never seen one. No surprise—they’re rare and expensive. For any spot on earth, totality happens once every 360 years on average. Some places, like Los Angeles, will wait more than a millennium.
Everyone’s seen photos. The image of a black Moon surrounded by the solar corona is familiar. But is it merely a lovely natural scene along the lines of a lunar eclipse, or beavers building a dam? Only when viewed in person does the observer realize that this is the most wondrous event in his or her entire life.
The eye perceives gorgeous detail the camera can’t capture. But beyond the visual sight is a feeling, a vibe. Almost certainly, you’ll consider it the most amazing thing you’ve ever experienced.
I’m talking about this now instead of in August to encourage everyone to plan a journey into totality’s narrow path. A partial eclipse will temptingly appear over every backyard in the US. You might imagine that a deep partial will be “good enough,” since the Sun will be around 75% blocked as seen from most of the country. A stay-at-home eclipse party might certainly sound attractive.
Don’t do it. Make “Totality or Nothing” your mantra on August 21, 2017.
Check out a web totality map (like NASA’s Total Solar Eclipse Interactive Map), decide where you’ll be, then watch the weather as the date approaches.
Avoid the Pacific Northwest where there’s a good chance of clouds. And maybe avoid the Southeastern States where it’ll be an afternoon event with high humidity and an enhanced chance of pop up storms. Of course, if you have friends or relatives in Nashville, where it’ll be total, keep your fingers crossed and go for it!
Whatever you decide to do, plan ahead now! In Oregon, campsites located within the eclipse’s path have already been totally booked. Just know that it’ll all work out even if you end up observing from a highway shoulder.
I’ve been the eclipse astronomer for seven previous totalities, in places like northeastern Australia, Libya, and Bengal. People pay thousands to position themselves in the Moon’s shadow. But now that shadow comes to our own country—within driving range!
Don’t imagine that this is an event like a lunar eclipse, a bright conjunction, a comet, or a rich meteor shower. And don’t recall the partial eclipses you’ve seen, all of which required eye protection. None of those are in the same league.
Only solar totality makes people weep, and makes animals go nuts. This alone has an impact and glory that is life-altering. Mark August 21 on the calendar and see it. You don’t need equipment, other than cheap shade number 14 welding goggles for viewing the partial phase that precedes totality. When totality arrives, you look at it straight on, no equipment needed. You can even view it through binoculars. Totally safe.
I’ll share more tips in the weeks to come.
See more of This Week’s Amazing Sky.