Guide & Precision Map

Total Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017

2017 solar eclipse usa
precision map of 2017 solar eclipse path

Map of the 2017 eclipse path. The blue line shows the path of total totality.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

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.


What You Won't Learn Anywhere Else

solar eclipse corona

A solar eclipse seen from space

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.

Significance of a Total Eclipse of the Sun

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.

total eclipse day turns dark

During a total eclipse, the day turns dark

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 to a Real Astronomer to Plan Your Eclipse Trip

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 Advisor2017 solar eclipse trip advisor

Personalized eclipse planning consultation



Total Eclipse Phenomena

Then there are the solar phenomena only visible during a total solar eclipse.

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The Sun's corona during an eclipse

  • The Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, can be seen—a stunning aura of plasma extended out from the Sun for millions of miles.
  • Deeper still in the Sun's atmosphere is the chromosphere, whose deep red color is only visible during a total solar eclipse.
  • Solar prominences and solar flares are visible during a total solar eclipse. These are weather eruptions from storms on the surface of the Sun reaching out millions of miles—their size hundreds of times larger than the Earth. 
  • Baily's Beads: When the Moon completely covers the Sun, mountains and valleys along the Moon's edge allows bits of sunlight to peak through like beads of sunlight.

5 Things the Media Never Tells You About a Total Eclipse

solar eclipse corona

Use CE-certified, ISO-approved
solar eclipse glasses


    If you're out watching the full spectrum of phases of an eclipse in Spring, Summer, or Fall, you're going to get a really bad sunburn. Don't forget to bring sunblock along with your protective eclipse eyeware.

    Worried about what kind of eclipse glasses to get to protect you and your family from blindness? These glasses are certified safe:


    You do not need any eye protection while a solar eclipse is total, but bring a timer and set it for your local totality time when the sky goes dark to alert you when to put your eclipse glasses back on when the Sun starts to come out.


    Do not bother taking pictures of the total eclipse! Tens of thousands of professionals, from National Geographic to Nature to the BBC, will be taking marvelous photos and HD video of the event. You'll miss the whole thing fooling around with your camera, tripod, etc.

    Snap a quick pic with your phone if you must, but I would be taking pictures of the crowds who stare in awe, the landscape turned dark, or other personal experiences. You've got a possible maximum of over two minutes of totality, so sit in a comfortable chair with your neck supported and watch the mystery of perfect cosmic alignment unfold before your very eyes!

  4. solar eclipse corona

    Ben Schumin
    Expect heavy traffic,
    especially near large cities.


    If you're planning on driving to the eclipse path on the day of the eclipse, remember there may be millions of other people trying to do the same thing, blocking the interstates like a hurricane evacuation.

    It’s best to be there a day early, and if it’s too expensive to stay overnight in the path of totality, find a cheaper room nearby and have at least one or two alternate routes.

    Hotel rates are near normal even one hour away from the path of totality.


    You still need a clear sky to see the eclipse during the day. The best chance of clear weather will be in Wyoming in late August.

    If the weather looks threatening, remember that
    • if you run around looking for clearer skies, you might accidentally drive out of the totality zone, so pay attention to where you are
    • it might clear up when the eclipse is total, since the temperature will suddenly drop significantly. (It might also get suddenly cloudy.)

Precision Map of the Eclipse Path

precision map of 2017 solar eclipse path

Map of the 2017 eclipse path. The blue line shows the path of total totality.

access the eclipse map

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:

  • After the program boots up, use your zoom function to zoom into the eclipse path.
  • Note that there is a blue line in the middle of the shaded area. The blue line is the center-line of longest totality. As you move North or South of the blue line, the totality is shorter.
  • The pink colored lines that border the shaded area is where totality ends and you will see a partial eclipse.
  • As you move your cursor, in the upper left hand corner, you will see exact terrestrial GPS coordinates.
  • Left-click on any location, and you will have complete information about the eclipse at that exact spot including start and stop times of totality. 
  • Click on the blue Help link in the upper right hand corner of any pop-up for more information about all the great things this program can do for you.

Access the eclipse map


Solar Eclipse Accessories