If you’re feeling a little bit out of the loop lately about this “totality” eclipse thing, allow us to catch you up: It’s a major celestial event and, if you’re in America, likely the best view you’ll get of a solar eclipse in your lifetime. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the best seats are all already taken.
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What You Need to Know About the 2017 Eclipse
On August 21 this year, the stars will quite literally align for those of us staring into the heavens from parts of North America. That’s the day when the moon’s path will nudge itself right in front of the sun from our point of view, leaving a black circle in the sky where the sun used to be, at least for a minute or two. It’s the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in 38 years.
Astronomers have identified the “path of totality” for this eclipse — stretching from Madras, Ore., (near Portland) to Columbia, S.C. — which indicates which areas of the country have the very best view of the eclipse (that “best view” being the total eclipse, where the moon will completely cover the sun from view). According to The Washington Post, an estimated 12 million people live in the path of totality, and “as many as 7 million more will migrate to the path for the big event.”
The eclipse should happen in the early-to-middle of the day, depending on where you’re located. It appears first from Oregon, with a partial eclipse visible around 9:06 AM local time, and totality happening between 10:19 AM and 10:21 AM, according to NASA. The last view of the eclipse will happen in South Carolina, with totality happening locally from around 2:42 PM to 2:44 PM. That two-ish minutes of totality doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but know that during the eclipse, the sky will go dark — like we’re experiencing night in the middle of the day, complete with temperatures dropping and cicadas singing.
People who fancy astronomy have had “8/21/17” marked down in their calendars for years, but it seems like everyone under the sun (ha!) has a plan to watch the eclipse this year. Astronomer Tyler Nordgren even predicted it will become “the most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history.” And The L.A. Times recently captured what big business this eclipse is turning out to be for those along the path of totality, pointing out that eclipse viewing glasses have been back-ordered on Amazon and hotels have been sold out for years. Even normal folks along the path are getting thousands of dollars from strangers to crash in their extra bedrooms for a night.
So, what’s a casual star-gazer to do if they don’t already have a plan for watching the eclipse? You’ve definitely got options, so you can quiet that feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out, for the uninitiated victim).
Take Part: There’s Enough Eclipse for Everyone
In the continental U.S.? All you need to do to see the August 21st eclipse is look outside your window (with proper eye protection — but more on that later). According to NASA, everyone in North America, as well as parts of South America, Africa and Europe, will see at least a partial eclipse that day. That “path of totality” thing is just the place to see the total eclipse.
The total eclipse, of course, is the really unique and really cool part. So, no, the people dropping a grand on a one-night Airbnb stay are not overreacting. But if astronomy isn’t exactly a major interest of yours, experiencing the partial eclipse from wherever you happen to be on that Monday is going to be pretty cool, too — especially the closer you are to the path.
Be warned: If you want to watch the eclipse with your own eyes — no matter where you’re standing — you need to be prepared with proper eye protection. Looking at the sun directly, even just the sliver of sun visible before the total eclipse, can cause permanent eye damage, and homemade sun filters and regular sunglasses do not provide sufficient eye protection. You’ll need special eclipse-watching eyewear like these from Amazon which, at the time of writing this, were scheduled to be back in stock on August 9th.
You’re Close, But Are You Close Enough?
To experience the total eclipse, you need to be between the blue lines on this interactive map from NASA.
Also, this page, if you can get past the Geocities-esque web design documents a pretty educational play-by-play of the eclipse’s entire day, making mention of which metro areas are and are not going to be within view of the total eclipse and also your best journey to drive and see it.
Watch Online: The 2017 Total Eclipse is a Click Away
Through the magic of the internet, you can be anywhere in the world with a click of your mouse button, no specialty goggles needed. The National Park Service has arranged for several parks along the path of totality to live stream their view of the eclipse through the National Park Service website, and NASA is hosting their own live stream page with footage from the International Space Station as well as a handful of outposts on the ground. Lifehacker also compiled a list of a handful more places to watch, including an iOS app and a stream from an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, to watch how they react to night settling in around lunchtime.
Then there’s also social media, the digital epicenter of FOMO. Besides the 12 million Americans who live in the path of totality, there are 200 million who live within a day’s drive — safe to say, plenty of footage is going to make it online throughout the day (the official hashtag is #eclipse2017). There’s also a project called Eclipse Megamovie which is aiming to stitch together high-definition footage of the entire American eclipse, shot by “citizen scientists” along the path.
Mark Your Calendar: More Eclipses are Coming
If you do want to catch a total eclipse some day, you might like to know that this year isn’t your only chance ever to do so. The Washington Post created an interactive page to show you every eclipse happening everywhere in the world across your entire expected lifespan, including the eclipse happening in seven years on April 8, 2024 — poised to cross right over Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Buffalo, N.Y.