by Astronomer Bill
Well I hear you went to Saratoga
And your horse naturally won
Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
- Carly Simon
I had just graduated high school, heading toward a career in astronomy, when I heard Carly Simon's song that validates how difficult and expensive it is to catch a total eclipse of the sun. The song refers to the March 1970 total solar eclipse in Nova Scotia. Since then there have been a number of total eclipses in remote sections of the oceans, diseased-infested jungles, Antarctica, and many dangerous unstable countries. Even as a young man I realized that witnessing a total eclipse would be an ordeal possible only for the idle rich.
Not so for the Great American Eclipse of 2017. On August 21st, 2017 the moon's shadow will completely cover the Sun coast-to-coast from Oregon to South Carolina. If you live in the right part of St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville, or Charleston, you won't even have to leave your house. For the rest of the us the path of totality is an easy day-trip by car or air.
There is all kinds of information out there about the eclipse. I will be talking about what's not out there. This article from an experienced eclipse watcher will (a) convince you to make the trip to see the eclipse and (b) give you the practical information you need to enjoy the inspiration, wonder, and scientific teachings that a total eclipse of the sun can reveal.
Where will the eclipse be exactly? At the end of this article is a link to a precision interactive map that will show you exactly where the eclipse is total and where it is not.
Location Matters! Off by one block, and the sun is 99% covered, which means that all the magical phenomena peculiar to a total eclipse is not visible. It's like you can't be "a little bit pregnant"—when it comes to the experience of a total eclipse, "you must be totally total". After reading this article, you can be confident that if you travel to the path of totality, you will not be disappointed.
Remarkably, the size of the moon exactly covers the Sun during a solar eclipse.
Sometimes the orbital distances are such that we have what's called an annular eclipse, which means the Moon is too small to cover the sun. Although interesting, these solar eclipses are not total eclipses.
The August 21, 2017 eclipse is a full total eclipse with over two minutes of totality at the center-line. The center-line is the center of the moon's shadow on the Earth where the observer on Earth will see the Sun completely covered by the Moon for the longest period of time. Having more time means you will be able to enjoy and appreciate the features of a total eclipse more fully.
As the Moon completely covers the Sun, the Moon's shadow plunges the observer in darkness. The planets Mercury and Venus, which orbit close to the Sun but are blotted out by sunlight, instantly become visible. Stars and constellations near the Sun pop out since the magnitude or brightness of the covered Sun is less than Venus at night. During those two minutes of totality, you can look directly at the Sun without harming your eyes.
As the Sun approaches total totality, you may be able to see the Moon's shadow racing towards you across the landscape at over 1,600 miles per hour. After totality, you may be able to see the Moon's shadow leaving, heading East with equal speed.
Talk on the phone with a real astronomer to plan and prepare a personalized eclipse experience for you and your family for a $22 donation to Windowpane Observatory.
Starting from exactly where you live, anywhere on Earth, this is a travel guide and trip advisor personalized just for you - all in a 15 minute phone call. No such service exists anywhere else on Earth!
Testimonials for our advisory service on past eclipses:
Our car broke down and astronomer Bill showed us how to walk right into the center-line just in time!
- Arthur D., Total Eclipse June 21, 2000 in Mozambique
We had all the wrong things packed for the eclipse trip - the astronomers at WPO got us all straightened out!
- Walter M., Total Eclipse March 29, 2006 in Brazil
We had special needs and Astronomer Bill made it all work out for us.
- Merrick C., Total Eclipse July 11, 2010 in Chile
Thanks to this service we not only saved hundreds on food and lodging but actually wound up in a much better spot.
- Fernando, S., Total Eclipse November 13, 2012 in Australia
2017 Solar Eclipse Trip Advisor
Personalized eclipse planning consultation
Then there are the solar phenomena only visible during a total solar eclipse.
To help you see exactly where the eclipse is total and where it is not, Xavier M. Jubier programmed an accurate and impressively detailed Google map with exact GPS locations and precise times of all phases of the eclipse.
Notes and instructions on the eclipse map: