Where to see the great American eclipse

On 21 August 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible over the USA. With the event approaching and 230 million people about to get organised, veteran eclipse-chaser Jamie Carter says it's time to start planning your trip.

Words: Jamie Carter

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The eclipse of August 17, 2017 will sweep across mainland USA.
© NASA/Map data © Google 2016

It's one of the most magical astronomical events of all, and it's coming to the US on 21 August 2017. A total solar eclipse occurs when the path of the new Moon's orbit crosses the Sun as we see it from Earth, throwing a Moon-shadow onto the planet. If you stand under the path of that two mile-wide shadow you'll experience totality, but it's not just about darkness in the day.

For most of the event – and all of the partial eclipse – you must use specially designed, certified eclipse glasses to avoid exposing your eyes to the Sun's powerful rays, which can easily cause blindness. Only during the brief moments of totality when everything goes dark around you can you peek at the Sun and see with the naked eye its powerful, pulsing corona. However, as soon as you see the Sun begin to emerge from behind the Moon – and a flash of light called the 'diamond ring' that brings totality to an end – put those eclipse glasses back on. For more information on viewing solar eclipses safely, read NASA's safety guide.

You can see a map of the eclipse track as a Google Map from NASA here and as one huge image here, but make sure you aim for the line of totality for the maximum length of totality. A year in advance might seem like too soon to plan, but with most North Americans living within a one- or two-day drive of the eclipse track, hotel rooms are already being booked and rental vehicles secured.

Here we present some great ideas for eclipse-viewing destinations, itineraries and trips to make the most of 2017's American total solar eclipse.


 

Where to view the eclipse

Carbondale, Illinois

How often do the paths of two total solar eclipses cross? That's exactly what's going to happen on 8 April 2024, when a second eclipse in just seven years will intersect the path of the 21 August 2017 eclipse at Carbondale.  Not only is this town the 'crossroads of the eclipses', but a train runs here from Chicago, so it's easy to reach by public transport after your flight from Europe. Plus, you can return to exactly the same point in seven years to see another total solar eclipse! That makes Carbondale a true collector's item for eclipse-chasers.

Transport: Fly to Chicago and take the Amtrak Illinois Service to Carbondale

Totality: 13:20 pm CDT (lasts 2 minutes 40 seconds)


 

Mitchell, Oregon

The Painted Hills will be buzzing with eclipse photographers.
© Christian Heeb/Oregon Tourism Commission

This remote area of Oregon has perhaps the best chance of clear skies anywhere on the eclipse track, but just as inviting is the John Day Fossil Beds, which includes the beautiful Painted Hills. The potential here for a dramatic backdrop to the eclipse that reflects the changing light before, during and after totality is not lost on astrophotographers, at least one of whom is hosting an eclipse photography workshop. Just to the north is Goldendale Observatory State Park, which has a publicly accessible 24.5-inch reflector telescope, as well as a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope and several portable Dobsonian telescopes.

Transport: Fly to Portland, Oregon and rent a car

Totality: 10:20 am PDT (lasts 2 minutes 5 seconds)


 

Clarksville, Tennessee

For those who don't have time to see the USA either side of the eclipse, consider a fly-in, fly-out tour arranged by Omega. Its five-day, £1,899 itinerary flies from Heathrow to Nashville for a half–day city tour before transferring to Clarksville on the line of totality for the eclipse, where weather prospects are excellent. Better still, The Sky At Night's own Pete Lawrence is among the guest astronomers.

Transport: Fly from London to Nashville

Totality: 13:25pm CDT (lasts 2 minutes 22 seconds)


 

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

The Grand Tetons will provide a dramatic backdrop to the eclipse.
© Toby Baxter/Grand American Adventures

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on 12 and 13 August 2017, barely a week before the eclipse, so consider a road trip in Utah starting two weeks beforehand. Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Arches National Park are all International Dark Sky Parks and will offer unrivalled views of the meteor shower. Then head north into the Grand Tetons National Park, stopping at Jackson, Wyoming for the eclipse.  

Transport: Fly to Denver or Salt Lake City and rent a vehicle

Totality: 11:35 am MDT (lasts 2 minutes 15 seconds)

How about a pre-eclipse road trip via Utah's Dark Sky Parks?
© NPS

 

St. Joseph, Missouri

A great option for families and reachable by public transport, a large public eclipse event is being planned for Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St Joseph, Missouri. As well as workshops for kids and lectures from astronomers, there will be solar observing sessions, which ought to be a fascinating experience if you can get in the queue during the partial phase. Organiser Michael Bakich (who offers an interesting eclipse podcast) has a huge star-chart planned for brief stargazing in the minutes before and after totality when the light fades. Expect to see Venus, Mars and Mercury, and possibly Regulus and Sirius.

Transport: Fly to Kansas City from Chicago and get the 502 bus to Omaha, which stops at St Joseph after an hour

Totality: 13:06 pm CDT (lasts 2 minutes 39 seconds)


 

Casper, Wyoming

Casper, Wyoming will host hundreds of astronomers.
© Real America

Here's some good advice; do what professional eclipse-chasers do. This small town a few hundred miles from Yellowstone National Park is hosting AstronCon 2017 just prior to to the eclipse, so there will be hundreds of astronomers in this area. One of the speakers, Fred Espenak – better known as Mr Eclipse – performed all of NASA's eclipse calculations. So who are we to argue with Fred? Casper offers great weather prospects and mobility, with a 100-mile stretch of Highway 26 heading west that just happens to run parallel with the line of totality. Wyoming Eclipse Fest is being organised in the town.

Transport: Fly London-Denver, then rent a car and drive three hours north

Totality: 11:42 am MDT (2 minutes 25 seconds)


 

Union County, Illinois

The longest duration of totality along the track on 21 August 2017 is in Union County, Illinois, where 2 minutes 41.6 seconds are on offer to anyone willing to venture into the Giant City State Park area. This is hardly the back of beyond; Blue Sky Vineyards is hosting an eclipse festival to celebrate the fact that just across the road at the geographic location of 37° 34′ 04.3″ N 89° 06′ 10.0″ – in the woods just south of Panther's Den Road – will enjoy more darkness and totality than anyone else. You're bound to meet an eclipse-chaser there! Consult Xavier Jubier's 2017 Total Eclipse Interactive Google Map for the exact position.

Transport: Fly to Chicago and rent a car

Totality: 13:20 pm CDT (lasts 2 minutes 41.6 seconds)


 

Columbia, South Carolina

Downtown Columbia will see a long Totality.
© DiscoverSouthCarolina.com

For anyone with an interest in space exploration, this two or three week journey down the east coast of the USA is the ultimate road trip. As you drive for three weeks between Boston and Florida – or vice versa – you can call in at Manhattan's Hayden Planetarium, the Apollo To The Moon exhibition in Washington D.C., Hampton's Virginia Air & Space Center and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Charleston, South Carolina's USS Yorktown contains the original Apollo 8 capsule. However, cloud is common here in August, so drive two hours inland to the city of Columbia, which has more chances of clear skies – and more totality.

Transport: Fly to Boston or New York and drive south, or fly to Columbia.

Totality: 14:41 pm EDT (lasts 2 minutes 29 seconds)


 

Salem, Oregon

Amtrak's Empire Builder will whisk you the edge of the eclipse path.
© Amtrak

This reasonably sized town of 160,000 in the path of totality offers heaps of options. It's easy enough to fly to nearby Portland from Chicago, but Amtrak's 45-hour Empire Builder daily passenger train is a great option if you want to see the country. From Portland's Union Station the Amtrak Cascades service takes only another hour or so to reach Salem in the Willamette Valley. This is wine country, so you can toast the eclipse in style.

Transport: Fly to Chicago or Portland and take the train.

Totality: 10:17 am PDT (for 1 minute 54 seconds)


 

Idaho Falls, Idaho

A post-eclipse trip to the Craters of the Moon National Monument seems fitting.
© NPS/Dave Clark

A short domestic flight (or three hours drive) from Salt Lake City, Idaho Falls' Tautphaus Park Zoo might be a good place to see how animals react to the surreal twilight and sudden blackout of Totality. After you've experienced the Moon-shadow, get a close-up of the Moon at the brilliantly preserved basalt lava fields at the nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Transport: Fly to Idaho Falls via Salt Lake City

Totality: 11:32 am MDT (lasts 1 minute 49 seconds)


A veteran eclipse-chaser, Jamie Carter is the author of the Google Map-linked USA Eclipse 2017 Travel Guide ebook, and A Stargazing Program for Beginners.

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