Total Solar Eclipse 2017
Monday, 21 Aug 2017
The path through the United States
...and what you'll see if you're in it!
Go here to visit Xavier Jubier's Interactive
The link will take you to a map of the US. Zoom in and click on any location to see the local times and circumstances for the eclipse!
There will be several eclipses that pass over the US in the 21st century. This is only the first, but it has been a long time coming! If you miss this one, you will only need to wait seven years for another, it's true - but why wait?! And besides, the eclipse in 2024 will also be visible from Mexico and Canada (in fact, Mexico is really a better place to watch that one from!). So come on out for this one, and enjoy what will truly be considered "America's Eclipse!"
People from all over the world begin to converge on the United States. Except for people returning home, visiting family, or conducting business at what happens to be just exactly the right time in history, these will be people who make it a point to travel to wherever the moon's shadow is going to touch the earth, and position themselves in a spot carefully chosen - sometimes years in advance - to ensure they see the sight.
These people will make contingency travel plans in case of last-minute clouds. These people will fill hotel rooms, sometimes inadvertently displacing locals from their homes as space gets harder to come by. These people will travel through miles of desert or forest or frozen wasteland, braving the harshest of conditions...for a short glimpse at the eclipsed sun.
These people are coming to America, because for the first time in 26 years, a total solar eclipse will occur in our great country, and we will play host to the world's eclipse-chasers. For those of us who already live here, but have never seen an eclipse, this is the opportunity of a lifetime - to see the most beautiful thing on the planet, and maybe not even have to get on an airplane to get to it!
Friday, August 18, 2017
Almost everyone who plans to see the eclipse will be in position. Foreign visitors will be be wrapping up their sightseeing tours of our country, and getting to their selected viewing areas early to ensure that no travel glitches have an opportunity to deprive them of their true goal. Cities along the path who have decided to create official eclipse viewing areas will have their focus set to logistics, ensuring the comfort, enjoyment and safety of their guests. People who have converged on those sites to view the eclipse will begin the countdown to eclipse day, as final preparations are made to ensure that photography equipment, filters, chairs, tables, telescopes, TV monitors, webcast equipment, hats and sunscreen are all at the ready for the big day!
Last-minute weather forecasts are checked, and anyone with the slightest fear of clouds on eclipse day will invoke their travel contingencies. Weather monitoring will proceed around the clock, with live updates issued hourly so as to best prepare eclipse-chasers who will need to move at a moment's notice. Nothing will stand in the way of seeing the eclipse!
The party begins....
Please note that all of the following statements about viewing the eclipse are made with two assumptions: (1) "weather permitting", and (2) you MUST use special solar viewing glasses to look at the sun whenever it is not in total eclipse! Please see this page for more on the important subject of eye safety.
And that land will be United States soil. On the beach in
Oregon, at a rocky spot of ground just north of Newport that
sticks its nose out into the Pacific, the shadow first touches
land at 17:15:50.6UT (at about 10:15 in the morning), and this
lucky piece of earth experiences a full minute and fifty seconds
The actual centerline of the eclipse path hits solid ground a full six seconds later, and plunges Lincoln Beach and Depoe Bay into darkness for 1m58s!
It takes only about two minutes for the shadow to race eastward toward its first date with a large population of folks who will be breathlessly awaiting its arrival. Dallas, Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Philomath, McMinnville, Woodburn, and yes, Salem itself, experience various lengths of totality (based on their varying distances from the centerline); on the steps of the State Capitol in Salem (the first of five State Capitols the shadow will visit), lucky viewers will be treated to 1m54.5s of shadow at just after 10:17am. Great time for a coffee break!
The great city of Portland is NOT in the path of totality! If you're there, or in Eugene, you will not get the full meal deal! Get south, and get yourself into the shadow!
The eclipse then leaves our most western friends, and travels through the forests of central Oregon, hitting the mountains at Madras and Warm Springs at about 10:19. Mitchell and Prairie City are next, and the shadow leaves Oregon just north of Ontario. (Actually, Ontario gets 1m23s of totality at 11:25am MDT, but folks there would be better served to head north to the rest area north of Huntington on I-84, or into Idaho on US 95 between Midvale and Weiser, for better than 30 seconds more totality! Soak them up; those seconds in the shadow are precious!!!)
On to Idaho, where Stanley and Mackay are the first recipients of lots of shadow. Idaho Falls is south of the centerline, so it only basks in the umbra for 1m49s at 11:33am. Rexburg does much better, getting 2m17s at the same time.
The highest point in Idaho - Borah Peak - is in totality, and that might not be a bad place to be for the more adventurous types!
But that's it for Idaho - Boise and Pocatello are NOT in the path of totality! Do not stay home, and think you're getting a good show, because you're not! Get north, and get into the shadow!
The first of the two states where no populated areas see the
shadow. We're not kidding here - there are no roads, no towns, no
named areas of any kind that will see totality. Only a tiny chip
of a tiny fraction of a tiny part of the tiniest southwestern tip
of the beard of Montana will see totality. No, not Monida, Lima,
or Dell - we're talking much further southwest than that! Less than
eight square miles of this monster state lie in the path.
Only trees - and critters - will see this eclipse from here.
One of the saddest things about this eclipse is that our first
National Park lies just outside the edge of totality! Without a
question, this wonderful, exhilarating landscape would have
provided the perfect spot for viewing nature's most awesome
spectacle, if only the moon had been positioned a little
differently. However, Yellowstone's loss is Grand Teton's gain;
the boundary separating those two great parks is just about
coincident with the Northern limit of the path! This makes the
southern part of Grand Teton National Park one of the best
places in the entire country to position yourself to view this
event! On the centerline, the Park will experience 2m20s of
totality at about 11:35am. Weather permitting, for folks who want
to experience nature while being overwhelmed by nature,
this may just be "The Place To Be"....
Moving onward, the shadow blesses Pavillion (at 11:38), and Shoshoni and Riverton (at 11:39) with 2m 23s of the great show, before landing squarely on the city of Casper. The centerline passes right over the intersection of highway 220 and S. Poplar Street at 11:42:34am, and gives viewers there 2m26s of totality!
Douglas, Glendo, Lusk and Torrington round out the list of larger towns that experience totality. Note that if you're in Wheatland, you're right on the southern edge of the path. You need to get north, to get as much totality as you can!
The eclipse path really shines in this great midwestern state, cutting across endless miles of prairie, lots of good-sized cities, and one more state capitol! Take a long lunch hour, and see an eclipse! Alliance (2m30s at 11:49am) and Scottsbluff (1m43s at 11:48am) are the first larger cities to see the shadow, and North Platte (1m40s at 12:54pm CDT) hugs the southern edge. Folks there should hop up US83 to Stapleton, to get more than two and a half minutes!
Moving east, the shadow engulfs Hastings at 12:58pm (for 2m13s of totality), but Grand Island (22 more seconds!) is an even better place to be!
Omaha is not in the path! Get down to Lincoln, or better yet, farther south toward Beatrice (2m35s at 1:02pm), for a better show! Speaking of Lincoln, this second capitol city in the path lies near its northern edge, so totality is shorter there - only 1m 25.5s (at 1:02pm) on the grounds of the beautiful State Capitol. The 50-yard-line at Husker stadium gets five seconds less time in the shadow, so you can see how important it is to get as far south as you can!
To give you an even better idea of how important your location is when you're this near the edge, you need look no further than the airport at Lincoln: Planes waiting to take off on the departure end of runway 17 (at the north end of the runway) will get only 1m7s of totality, while those at the south end of the runway (if traffic is departing on 35 that day) will get 18s more!!! Don't laugh - when you see the beauty of the eclipse, you will wish like anything that you had eighteen more seconds to see this most glorious sight!
The shadow leaves the capitol, and the centerline then passes over Falls City at 1:04pm. The path's great trek through the Cornhusker State, after having traveled its entire length in only eight minutes(!), will be over at 1:07:50pm.
The path travels through the very far NE corner of the Sunflower
State, and the centerline passes right over Troy at 1:05:55pm.
Folks there will enjoy 2m38s of totality! Atchison (2m16s at
1:06pm), Hiawatha (2m31s at 1:05pm) and Seneca (2m14s at 1:04pm)
are other cities from which to enjoy this magnificent show!
Yes, Levenworth is in the path as well, but you'll only see 1m35s there, so I'd head north to St. Joseph MO! (That is, if you can. We realize that certain residents of Leavenworth may be somewhat limited in their travel opportunities...)
Topeka is NOT in totality! Head north and east to get into the path!
We list Iowa here because only about three square miles (no, we didn't measure it) of the far southwestern tip of the state lies in the path. Not much totality here - Hamburg doesn't get any, and neither does any of I-29 in the state of IA. I wouldn't go here to see it unless you live here, and can't move south and west.
NOTE: Just because Iowa is listed here doesn't mean that if you're in Iowa, you should stay here to see the eclipse! Only maybe ten people live in the small chip of the state that sees the shadow! Please don't think that if you live in Iowa, you'll see the eclipse!
The eclipse's trek through this great state is one of the more
interesing, because more people will see the eclipse here by
default, than anywhere else along the path. That's because Kansas City and St. Louis are partially in the path of
totality! That's right, even though these cities are both split in
half by the path, and it would be much better for people to get
out of town to get a longer time in the shadow, the truth of the
matter is that many people will be at home or at work, and lots of
them will see the eclipse from their homes and offices in these
two great cities.
Because KC and STL are so big, and because they are split by the path, we can't give more than a passing reference to actual totality durations. Suffice it to say that you will only see a brief totality there, so if you can, get farther into the path! People in KC need to head north, and in STL, head south. Out of town, if you can, in both cases! But certainly, please try to get to the southern edge of STL, or the northern edge of KC, and see an unbelievable sight.
Recommendations for KCers: Any of the parks on the north side, like Hodge Park, would be good. Or better yet, any of the beautiful parks around Smithville Reservoir, or maybe even on a boat! Take a long weekend, and see an eclipse!
For St. Louis folks, just head south and west as far as you can. Within 270, you can head to Jefferson Barracks or Clydesdale parks; if you can get out a little farther, then Lone Elk, Castlewood, or Greensfelder parks would be good. As close as you can get to St. Clair (SW) or Festus (S) will be all the better for the amount of time you get to see the eclipse.
St. Joseph gets a whopping 2m38s of totality at 1:06:26pm! At 1:08, the shadow's southern edge will hit Kansas City, but as we've said, folks there should have hightailed themselves to Carrollton (2m37s at 1:09pm), Marshall (2m39s at 1:10pm), or Lathrop (2m30s at 1:07:45pm) for more of the show. Anyone staying behind will get a beautiful sight of Baily's Beads along the bottom of the sun's eclipsed disk. This in itself will be awe-inspiring, and will somewhat compensate for the lack of duration of totality.
Columbia gets 2m36s at 1:12pm, and the path hits its third State Capitol, on the banks of the mighty Missouri River, at 1:14:19pm. Legislators returning from lunch will see a 2m29s total eclipse on the steps of the Capitol building in Jefferson City.
Continuing on through the Show-Me State, the path crosses St. Clair at 1:15:40pm (2m40s of totality). The southern part of St. Louis lies in the path, but here is one of the greatest challenges we face in getting as many people as possible to view this total eclipse: Downtown St. Louis, the Arch, Busch stadium, and Lambert airport, are NOT in the path! People here need to get south or southwest in order to see totality, and it will fall to the good people of Hillsboro (2m39s at 1:16:40pm), DeSoto (2m40s at 1:16:46pm), Union (2m37s at 1:15:33pm), St. Clair (2m40s at 1:15:40pm) and Festus (2m37s at 1:17pm), to host them! These lucky towns get lots of time in the shadow!
If you stay in these very popular central and northern parts of the city, you will not see totality. What you see may look cool to you, but trust me - it will not compare to what people only a few miles south of you will experience! Head south, and see totality!
Farmington (2m12s at 1:17:40pm) lies farther south, and Cape Girardeau only gets 1m38s of totality, as it lies along the southern edge of the path. This occurs at 1:20:25pm.
Chicago is not in the path - not even close! The
far southern tip of the state is the only part that sees totality,
but it gets a lot! Murphysboro (2m40s at 1:19:30pm), Carbondale
(2m38s at 1:20pm) and Marion (2m28s at 1:20:40pm) are prime
viewing locations, but those are really the only places to
consider. Cairo, Springfield, Effingham and Mt. Vernon
are outside the path - no totality here!
And for those of you in Evansville, IN - so sorry, but this eclipse just barely passes you by. (You'll get your turn at totality in 2024!)
Illinois is also the state that has the most area of the overlap of the paths of
totality for Eclipse 2017 and Eclipse 2024!
Here is where it really gets interesting. Kentucky boasts the
longest period of totality of anywhere in the entire path! This
occurs at a spot just northwest of Hopkinsville, at 1:24pm - a
full 2m40s of totality! True, this isn't the longest eclipse on
record, but it's long enough! And this huge amount of totality is
enough of an incentive to consider this part of the world as your
preferred site for viewing the eclipse!
But first things first. The shadow passes over Paducah at 1:22pm, and observers there will see 2m20s of totality. The Land Between the Lakes is a wonderful spot to view the eclipse from, and the farther north you are here, the better! Eddyville gets 2m39s at 1:23pm. After that, Hopkinsville lies right on the centerline, and (as we said above) enjoys 2m40s of totality at 1:24:41pm.
Franklin (2m26s at 1:26:48pm) and Russellville (2m29s at 1:26pm) are other good spots from which to see the shadow. Bowling Green lies in the path, but it is on the northern edge, and folks here are advised to head to Hopkinsville, or down I-65 into Tennessee.
Mammoth Cave and Murray are not in the path, and neither are Louisville and Lexington. This show belongs to the far southwestern part of the Commonwealth, and you are urged to get there and be a part of it all!
Ah, Nashville. Home to the Grand Ol' Opry, and
mecca for country crooners worldwide. But on this day, the great
Capitol of Tennessee has a new claim to fame - a total eclipse!
That's right - after blocking out the sun for the fine citizens of
Clarksville (2m17s at 1:25pm - and don't forget about our
soldiers at Fort Campbell!), Springfield (2m36s at 1:26pm),
Portland (2m37s at 1:27), and Westmoreland (2m28 at 1:27), the
shadow pays a visit to the crown jewel of Country! It could be
better - Nashville lies close to the southern edge of the path, so
it doesn't get as much totality as we'd like, but all the city
limits, and most of the suburbs, will bask in the shadow!
Residents of Franklin and Kingston Springs will be left out of
totality, and Brentwood lies just inside the path, so people there
should head northeast. But, on the grounds of the State Capitol,
people will see 1m54s of totality at 1:27pm - a very respectable
eclipse! And, heading northeast to the grounds of the Grand Ol'
Opry, folks along beautiful Briley Parkway will see 2m13s (also at
1:27)!! If you're in Lebanon, you can stay put, because you'll
enjoy 2m24s of totality a minute later!
The rest areas on I-40, just west of the exit at Buffalo Valley, are right on the centerline, by the way!
Murfreesboro is yet another of those nice, big towns that lie right on the edge of the path. Sparta and Baxter lie right on the centerline, so you might want to head out there to see the show!
Crossville (2m31s at 1:31pm) is the last larger town the path hits within the Central Time Zone, and as the shadow hops the mighty Tennessee River, residents of Dayton will experience 2m21s at about the same time (except that there, it'll be 2:31pm!).
Residents of Cleveland, beware! Your town is right on the southern edge of the path, and you should consider hopping north to Athens or Sweetwater. Residents of Chattanooga, ditto, except that if you stay put, there'll be no show at all for you! Got that? Chattanooga is not in the path, and neither is Knoxville! Well, the very far southern suburbs of Knoxville are, but you won't get much totality, and who wants that? I-75 south is your best friend - take advantage of it! Here is a little more detailed map of Knoxville. Everyone at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville should hold class a few miles farther south, and enjoy the eclipse!
We'll talk about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park down in the section on North Carolina, but for now, suffice it to say that Clingman's Dome would be a great place to see totality from!
We know, we know, the path hits North Carolina next, but we felt
like talking about Georgia first. Mainly, we wanted to say that Atlanta is not in the path of totality,
and this is a huge shame. So many people will be at work, when
they should have taken a long weekend, gotten themselves up north,
and into the path! I-85 seems to be the best route here, to get
people up into South Carolina where they can see the show. But
there are lots of other options: I-75 way north, or US19 or US23
up into TN or NC, will get you there. Whatever you folks in
Hot'Lanta do with yourselves on the big day, though, make the
eclipse a part of it!
So, where to see the eclipse from the Peach State? Well, the centerline of the path just barely ticks the northeastern corner of the state, and runs about 12 miles between the borders of TN and SC. Clayton (2m34s at 2:35:45pm) is a nice county seat close to the centerline, but Toccoa (only 2m2s of totality) is a little bigger town. Don't think you're gonna see it from Athens, though, or Gainesville, or Augusta - this isn't your eclipse, guys! If you insist on staying within Georgia to see the eclipse, I'd suggest Black Rock Mountain State Park! You'll see about 2m36s of totality there.
Again, here is a state that will have only a fraction of its area
hit by the shadow - but what an area! The Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, or at least the western part of it, lies in
the path of totality! If you can't get to the Tetons, here is
perhaps just as wonderful a spot to watch the eclipse from! But
you have to be careful here - the whole park is not in totality,
and the park is so big, that it really depends on where you are as
to how much time you'll get in the shadow! We already talked about
Knoxville not getting totality - well, Gatlinburg is outside the
path completely! In fact, if you're east of that big north-south
road that cuts the park in two (is it 441 or 71?), then you won't
see any totality at all. Get as far west as you can, out to the
mountains in the western part of the park. On the southern edge,
Waynesville is a no-no - get farther west to Bryson City or even
farther west to Santeetlah Lake. You get the idea.
If National Parks and eclipse-watching don't go together for you, then you can also see totality in Murphy (2m26s at 2:34pm) or Franklin (2m30s at 2:35). Other than that, all we can say is that Charlotte is not in the path! Get into SC, down to Greenville or Columbia!
Oh yes, Asheville is also not in the path!
All good things must come to an end, and at 2:36:02pm, the shadow
of the great 2017 total eclipse first touches the final state in
its path. South Carolina also brings us the fifth state capitol to
be immersed in shadow, and several large cities will be able to
play host to eclipse-chasers from all over. Greenville is a very
large city, and it is fully in shadow by 2:38pm. Its sister city
of Spartanburg, however, is split by the path - you'll want to
head west, and enjoy Greenville's 2m14s of totality.
Greenwood (2m28s at 2:39) is next on the list of bigger cities to see totality, and then Columbia is treated about two minutes later. The Capitol Building gets just a hair under 2m30s, and would be a great place for workers to take an afternoon shadow-break!
Here is a map of the Greenville-Spartanburg area, to show you what's going on here.
Sumter lies in the path, as do big, beautiful lakes Marion and Moutrie - right on the centerline!! Get out on the boat and soak it in!
The last large city to see the 2017 eclipse will be Charleston. It lies on the southern edge of the path, but because folks in Mt. Pleasant will get over two minutes, Charlestonites should head northeast!
The centerline then cuts across US17, just south of the last city to see the shadow - McClellanville, SC. From there, the shadow will take its leave of the last piece of American soil at 2:49:07.4pm. Quite appropriately, the spot is a long, isolated beach on a barrier island at the tip of a Wildlife Preserve - Cape Romain, just east of McClellanville.
Amazing, isn't it? The swath of the shadow will touch the United States for only 1h 33m 16.8s - less than the length of a short movie! But in that time, many, many people in our country will have had their perceptions, and their lives, changed forever. It's that kind of a sight. Please plan to be there, in the path, together with a few hundred thousand other converts! You'll be joining many thousands of your fellow citizens in asking "When's the next one?"!
And that's it. From there, the shadow continues on, out over the Atlantic Ocean, not to touch any more land before deftly lifting off the earth's surface near Africa at just after 20:00UT. The shadow, that excited so many people in our great country, will continue out over open water for another hour and a half, travelling farther over the great expanse of blue than it did over our land. It will impress no more people in this part of its journey, but it will have left in its wake a new generation of eclipse-addicts, and a bevy of newly-fixed veteran junkies -- all of whom will be hugging each other, replaying the spectacular movie of totality in their minds, and promising themselves and each other to be present for the next one -- no matter where, no matter when.
(Just for the record, "the next one" will be on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. You can see it on land at sunset, from either Chile or Argentina - wherever you want. But for me, it'll be my daughter's twenty-first birthday, and she's got dibs on me -- I promised her a South Pacific cruise to totality when she was six!)
The above is a nice narrative of the path from the shadow's point
of view, but what about us? What about the person who is standing
in one spot, waiting for the shadow to overtake and engulf them?
What will they see?
Well, we always tell people that seeing an eclipse is like having children: If you don't have them, we'll never be able to explain what it's like. And if you do, then we won't have to!
But that doesn't mean we won't try anyway...!
Leading up to totality
If you're not in the path
Onset of Totality
The Edge of Totality
(Note: We mention "filters" throughout this discussion. What we're talking about is the special filter material that is made specifically for viewing the sun through. This filter material is made by several companies, and can be found in many different forms - from eclipse glasses to sheets that can be cut and made into customized filters for cameras, telescopes, and binoculars, and solid glass filters for use with large telescopes. If you are going to try to do anything more than buy a couple of pairs of eclipse viewing glasses, then we would suggest you visit some of the wonderful sites on the internet that will show you some of the photographic and visual uses of this amazing material! But do NOT try to improvise your own material - ONLY use filter material that has been specifically manufactured and sold as safe for direct solar viewing!)
Oops! You're way north of the path!
Well, that's 'cause you were in the wrong place. If you saw the moon go over the top side of the sun, then you were too far south. If it skirted the bottom part of the sun, then you should've been farther south. People there got the show, and you didn't. And there's no TIVO here, man - you missed it, and the moon ain't gonna back up and give you any do-overs. That's all she wrote for 2017, and it's a long swim to get to the next one.
Now, if you're just outside the path, like maybe less than 100 miles or so, then you will experience "deep" partiality. The moon will still track off-center, but at the time of maximum coverage, lots of the sun will end up being covered by it. Now, it's still not safe to look at without filters (!), but the deeper the partiality you get, the more of the "eclipse" effects you'll get to see. By that, we mean that you'll see (through filters) a very thin sliver of the sun - the closer you are to the path, the thinner the sliver you'll see. You'll also get to see the sky darken a bit, and if you're really close to the path, the overall eerieness of the quality of the light around you will deepen, and you'll get that weird feeling that the light isn't right, and that something very strange is going on around you. But, that's it. That's all you'll get, and like your friends who are still well outside the path, you'll also come away feeling like you got robbed.
Let's say, then, that you've happily found your way into the path. You don't have to be right on the centerline, but the closer to the centerline you are, the more totality you'll get. Most eclipse observers like to stay on or near the centerline, but there are some who enjoy the "edge" effects you get by being just inside the northern or southern path limits - more about them later. For now, let's consider if you're in the middle half of the path, nearer the centerline than you are to either edge. What happens then?
Well, you'll still see all the effects of deepening partiality. You'll get the shrinking sliver of sun, which is kind of cool but is not the real show. As the sliver thins, though, you get the very weird atmosphere that surrounds an eclipse, which is very difficult to describe. As the sliver of sun gets thinner and thinner, the sky darkens a bit, and the light around you takes on a weird, "clearer" quality. Everything seems sharper and clearer, though darker. It's kind of like if you were squinting, and everything seemed much clearer to you. It's very strange, and it's a very powerful effect on your senses.
As partiality deepens, and the sliver of sun shrinks even more, the sky get darker - very slowly, but noticeably darker. You don't really see it happening, but you can tell it's changing and getting darker. The shadows on the ground become very sharp, very contrasty, and you feel like there's something wrong with your eyes. At this point, some veteran eclipsers will put an eye patch over one of their eyes, to get it dark-adapted so they can see more detail in the corona during totality. Some people don't like that idea, because they like to use both eyes to see totality, and besides, wearing sunglasses during this darkening period probably gets your pupils as open as they're gonna get. But many people do it, so there must be something to it. We wouldn't recommend you do it if this is your first eclipse.
The wind picks up a bit, and the temperature drops noticeably. Birds roost, evening insects come out, and the world prepares for sunset in the middle of the day....
Onset of Totality
Paritality deepens even more, and the atmosphere actually starts to be a little scary. The sky gets deeper and deeper dark blue, and the sliver gets thin enough that you can actually (through your filters, remember?) start to see it shrinking as you watch it. In the five minutes before totality, you can really get a feel for how earth-shatteringly frightening this event must have been to ancient people who had no idea what was going on. We can truly believe that people could have been frightened to death! But not us - the spectacle gets your heart beating fast, your mouth watering for more, and your whole body trembling with excitement that you're being swept along in a wonderful dance of the cosmos that nothing is going to stop. But we're all too "modern" to allow anything like this to affect us...emotionally, right? Don't you believe it!
As the last bite of the sun slides away, things happen way too fast to describe concisely. You simply cannot focus on every one of the events that take place around you, so you have to pick the few that seem the coolest to you. (There will be more eclipses, after all, and in about 5 minutes you're going to be on the phone making travel plans to see the next one!) The most important thing going on is the actual sun up in the sky, but let's take a peek at just a couple of other things first.
The sky surrounding the sun will grow very dark very quickly. In real time, you will be able to see the deep blue turn to twilight blue, and then to bluish-black. Stars and planets will pop out of nowhere. Roosters will crow and insects will chirp as though night is falling. If you look to the west, you'll see a beautiful black curtain with hints of sunset-orange north and south of it, while off to the east, the sky at the horizon is still rather light. On the ground, your shadow will become impossibly clear and thin, and then will vanish completely as the sun's light fades to about the intensity of the full moon. In the last few seconds before totality, that dull blackness you saw off to the west will suddenly spring up out of the earth, and take over the whole sky like a gigantic curtain being pulled over you - like that scene in the original Disney Fantasia movie - only about a hundred times faster. If you aren't focused on the sun at that time (like most people will be), you'll be looking at the actual shadow of the moon racing toward you at supersonic speed, covering you with its blackness. If you see that, you're very lucky, because it happens so fast. And besides, you'll probably be too awe-struck by what's going on center stage...
As the last sliver of sun melts away, you will be able to see several things happening simultanelously. You will now definitely have the feeling that there are two bodies involved, because it is impossible to miss the disk of the moon in these last seconds. (You should still be watching through the filters, by the way.) But while the last bit of the sliver is shrinking, the corona will start to come out. The last little bit of the sun's light will glare through valleys on the moon, and will create a "bead" effect at the edge of the moon's disk. These are called "Baily's Beads", and they are stunning. These will dance around a little, and then will fade away as the very last one of them brightens into a huge bead. Around the edge of the moon, the sun's corona will begin to glow, giving us the famous "diamond ring" effect. It lasts for only about 2-3 seconds, but it is stunning beyond words. Most people will take their filters off at this point (though technically, you're not supposed to look until the diamond ring is totally gone, we're just saying that most people do it anyway). You will see the corona burst into view as the diamond fades away, appearing as though someone is smearing wispy-white cotton candy all around the black hole that's been cut out of the fabric of the blue-black sky. (We are convinced that the corona comes out while the diamond is still blazing away, and it is a beautiful sight to see.) There may be tongues of red fire visible around the edge of the sun - these are solar prominences, and no one knows what they will look like until they see them right along with you.
Someone will blow a whistle to signify that totality has officially begun, and you can take your viewing glasses and all your filters off, and stare away. If there's no whistle, then once you can't see anything at all with your filters, take them off! You will see nothing if you keep them on, and now, during totality, they're not necessary! Keep them in your hand for when totality is over, but use your eyes. Use your binoculars with impunity. Don't look away if you can help it. The diamond is gone, all the sun's light is blocked, and you're looking at the most beautiful thing you're likely to ever see - the solar corona, shimmering around the moon brilliantly (about as bright as the full moon, actually). It will look to you as though someone has painted the sky a deep blue-black, has cut an impossibly-black hole in it with a pair of scissors, and then smeared radiant, glowing, shimmering cotton candy around that hole. No picture in the world can do justice to the sight you have before you, and you will want to etch it in your memory forever. Ten years from now, you'll still be able to imagine the sight in your mind - so burn it in there now, while you can. Listen to the people around you scream and yell and hoot and holler and yell "Oh My God" and do whetever else it is they do when there's nothing else to do but blither like a mad fool. Look and enjoy the gift you've been given.
If you have a second to look away, look at the horizon all around you. It will be the orange of a sunset, all the way around the whole horizon! You are in the middle of the circle of shadow that the moon has projected onto the surface of the earth, and all around you at the horizon, the eclipse is not total! You're seeing the sunset effects of the sun's light from a hundred miles away or so, all around you! It will be too dark for you to see anything close at hand, but remember NO flashlights, NO flash pictures (they won't come out, and you'll ruin the scientists' pictures). Just stand there and enjoy it. Hoot and holler all you want. Talk to the sun. Thank it for its gift in your own special way. After all, whatever craziness happens in the shadow, stays in the shadow.
After the initial cheers from the crowd, the atmosphere will settle a little, and you'll be tempted to look away. This is the stage where you have to remember that you're only going to get this show for a minute or two, and you have to record it in your mind in order to keep it forever. NO pictures will ever do it justice, so whatever you store in your brain is what you're going to be left with. Enjoy it, and immerse yourself in it.
You'll know when totality is finally coming to an end, because the western sky will brighten dramatically. The shadow is racing along to the next group of eagerly-awaiting victims to the east, and your time is sadly coming to an end. The right side of the sun's black disk will brighten a little, you may see prominences again, and some people will plaintively yell "no, please don't go away". Just like that, the corona will dim, the diamond ring will flash into view on the right side of the sun's disk (and it's time again for your filters), the whistle will blow, the beads will come back, and it will be over. Totality is gone for you, and you will desperately want it to not be gone. Your brain will be frantically filing away the memories of what you've just seen, and your body will be weak from the adrenaline crash that now comes over you. Everyone will cheer like idiots. The shadows will come back, the sky will brighten, and the sliver of sun will majestically return. This is third contact - the end of totality - and you've just joined the very select, very small percentage of humans who have witnessed a total eclipse. Congratulations!
We believe this is the most anticlimactic feeling a person can have in life. In under two hours, you've been built up so much by the events that have overtaken your senses, and you've just experienced a hundred-second orgasm of amazement with a few hundred of your new comrades in eclipsedom, only to be dropped like a rock in the ocean while the moon marches on across the face of the sun. There is no more show to be had, and nothing you can do to see it again until the next one comes around in a year or so, in some far-off corner of the planet. After the spectacle of totality, the views of the waxing crescent sun that are still there for the viewing will seem silly to you, and you'll likely just want to go relax somewhere with friends and a favorite beverage or two. Later that night, you'll see pictures on the news. The next day, you'll see pictures in the paper, and you won't believe those pictures are of the same thing you saw. That's how bad pictures are! You'll smile, because you will have the memory of your most perfect view of the glory of a total eclipse, and that can never be taken away from you.
Traffic driving away from your viewing location may be tight, so you could simply plan on staying right where you are for a time. You might want to take a bit of the dirt that was around your feet, and save it in a film canister or a baggie as a memento of something that physically shared your experience. But you will feel a curious mix of letdown and exhilaration and pride and withdrawal. You will feel like you've shared something intimate and erotic with all the people around you, while at the same time something so personal, you're scared to try and describe it lest it escape your memory as you release the descriptive words from your mouth. Please though, come back to this site and share your experiences with us - we want to share them with the world!
The Edge of Totality
There are those who like to be near the edge of totality. Before we talk about them, let us be very clear - if this is your first eclipse, you would do much better to try and station yourself near the centerline, in order to maximize your experience of totality. But some eclipse veterans feel strongly that the tradeoff of less time in the shadow near the edge is more than compensated for by the intensity and splendor of the changing effects they see "out there". It is true that you will see more chromosphere - that thin band of deep, beautiful red that hugs the solar disk - near the edge than at the centerline. (In fact, it has been said that at the edge, you get chromosphere for the entire duration of totality, whereas near the centerline, you only get it for a few seconds at the onset and end of totality.) You will also see the effects of Baily's Beads, as thin slivers of sunlight dance in and out of lunar mountains and valleys along the edge. One of the most valuable things amateurs can do at the edge, in fact, is to accurately (within tenths of a second) record on video those effects, so that the lunar limb profile can be more accurately mapped. If you wish to do this, you need to have a very high-resolution camera, a very accurate fix on your latitude and longitude (use a good GPS), and a time signal that has been checked to be within a half-second or so of actual UT (synch with the WWV signal or time.gov, and make sure you're recording the time stamp or audible signal as well). If that sounds like a lot of work, it is! We will be coordinating some efforts to perform these activities along the path edge in a couple of cities, and if you'd like to participate, please let us know!
*To be continued*
*For a discussion of UT, see this site. The quick and dirty of it is that whenever you see
"UT", take the time you see, and:
subtract 4 hours if you're in the Eastern Time Zone
subtract 5 hours if you're in the Central Time Zone
subtract 6 hours if you're in the Mountain Time Zone
subtract 7 hours if you're in the Pacific Time Zone
(assuming Daylight Saving Time)
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