Make Plans to View The Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
Where will you be on August 21st? With a little bit of planning, I am hoping you will place yourself in the path of totality for what promises to be a spectacular natural event! That’s where I will be and the only luck we will need is clear weather for the total solar eclipse.
Viewers from all over the U.S. will be able to see a partial solar eclipse, but ask any astronomer and they will tell you to get yourself into the umbra, the shadow of the Moon, for the really amazing show. As you can see from the graphic below, courtesy of Steve Spangler Science, the path of totality (umbra) is a narrow band that stretches across the U.S. You have to be in this narrow path to see the total solar eclipse!
The chance to see a total solar eclipse is rare because: 1. The shadow may fall out on the oceans and 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, and 2. The shadow may fall on land masses that are remote with poor access. That is the reason that this upcoming eclipse, crossing so much populated land, is an amazing opportunity for millions of people to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity.
2017 Solar Eclipse Path
What is a Total Solar Eclipse?
A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon, in its New Moon phase, is perfectly aligned between the Earth and the Sun. So during the day, the Moon will slowly creep across the surface of the Sun. When the Moon completely blocks the Sun only the Sun’s beautiful outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. This is totality and it is an awesome sight to see!
A total eclipse is the ONLY time it is safe to view the event without special protective solar glasses. You are standing in the shadow of the Moon, and it doesn’t last long so enjoy it! During this eclipse, the point where totality will last the longest is in Kentucky and that will be for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. The cloak of darkness speeds from West to East crossing the entire country in 90 minutes!
Most Americans have never seen a total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse to reach the continental U.S. was in February of 1979, and it only clipped the northwestern states, sweeping from the coast of Washington and Oregon, through Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Reports tell us that due to weather, viewing was limited. Seeing an eclipse requires clear weather, and the summer weather across the U.S., although not perfect, will give most areas a reasonable chance to see it.
Viewing the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
First of all, you will need to get yourself to the best possible viewing location which is in the path and close to the center line. The duration of totality is always longer at the center line because it is the center of the circular shadow. At the coast of Oregon totality lasts almost exactly 2 minutes. The duration steadily increases until Kentucky where it reaches 2 minutes and 40 seconds. It then decreases slightly until it leaves the coast of South Carolina at 2 minutes and 34 seconds. During totality, take a moment to look all around you. You will see the edge of the shadow, still lit by sunlight, so it looks like a 360° colorful sunset horizon.
I had the amazing opportunity to interview Dr. Gordon Telepun, MD, who is a NASA Subject Matter Expert for the 2017 U.S. total solar eclipse and also the creator of the Solar Eclipse Timer App (more on that below). Gordon has experienced three previous solar eclipses. He was very helpful in not only getting me very excited about this eclipse, but also in helping me to understand just what a neat opportunity this will be for both children and adults alike.
He shared with me some wonderful tips for getting the most out of your viewing experience. Adults may want to focus on photography, but he strongly recommends that everyone at least make a home video of the event because of the audio. The reaction of the crowd when totality begins and ends is so entertaining!
There are also fun things to do with the children based on the pinhole projection technique. The small holes in things like kitchen colanders, straw hats, the gaps between the leaves in the trees will project the image of the solar eclipse on the ground as it’s happening.
Bring a small digital thermometer and let the children record the drops in temperature as more and more of the Sun gets blocked. Just remember to set up the thermometer in the shade out of direct sunlight for the most accurate readings. Being in the path is the key, to quote Gordon, “Unlike horseshoes, close doesn’t count. You must be in the path of totality.”
The stages of a total solar eclipse are marked by what are called the contact times. It’s really simple to understand; 1st Contact is when the Moon first touches the Sun; 2nd Contact is when the Moon obscures the Sun and totality begins; 3rd Contact is when the Moon allows the Sun to peek back through and totality ends; 4th Contact is when the Moon moves completely off the Sun. First contact to 4th contact takes over 3 hours with totality only a few precious minutes in the middle!
Protect Your Eyes with Solar Eclipse Viewing Glasses
This is a very exciting and amazing event, but it is very important to protect your eyes! Normal sunglasses will not protect your eyes from the intense rays of the Sun, so purchasing the correct eye wear to watch a solar eclipse is important. You must use this protective eye wear through all of the partial phases of the eclipse both before and after totality. The only time it is safe to look at the Sun with your naked eyes is during the brief period of totality!
NASA has released an information guide called How to View the 2017 Solar Eclipse Safely and one of their recommendations is that glasses meet the current international standard of ISO 12312-2. You might consider purchasing these Solar Eclipse Glasses and Book – Safe Solar Viewing – CE and ISO Certified (15 Pack with Eclipse Book) for $19.99.
There’s an app for that!
If you want more help and guidance in viewing the Solar Eclipse, make sure to download the Solar Eclipse Timer App. Developed by Gordon Telepun and only $1.99, this app is so user-friendly. It’s like having a personal astronomer by your side to talk you through the eclipse! It is the only “talking” solar eclipse timer available.
The app is an essential tool to help first-time eclipse observers because it takes the guesswork out of the experience, but it’s also sophisticated enough for expert eclipse chaser to help with photography. Once you are in the path, the app will geolocate and calculate your exact contact times for the eclipse and load them into the timers. The app then gives spoken announcements to tell you when it’s safe to take your solar glasses off and when you must put them back on. It announces all of the countdowns and includes reminders for the partial phase phenomena and to look at the horizon at mid-eclipse. The app is available for iPhone and Android.
What else should you know about the Solar Eclipse of 2017?
Keep in mind, due to the rarity of this event, hotels are already booking up, and we can probably expect delayed travel times and possibly even traffic jams. Experts are predicting that this event could cause quite a stir in the travel industry!
Should you miss this event, there will be a few more chances to see total solar eclipses in the U.S. in the coming years. In April 2024, we will see one in areas of Texas through Maine and another in August 2045 that will be visible in areas of California through Florida. However, neither of those will present the fantastic viewing opportunities that we will see later this summer, so I hope that you and your family are able to make your way to the path of totality for this truly once in a lifetime opportunity!
Find Hotels along the Solar Eclipse Path of Totality:
- Salem, OR
- Idaho Falls, ID
- Casper, WY
- Scottsbluff & Grand Island, NE
- Kansas City, Jefferson City & St. Louis, MO
- Carbondale, IL
- Nashville, TN
- Greenville, Columbia & Charleston, SC
You may also enjoy:
- Our 2017 Travel Bucket Lists
- How to Decide Where to Go on Vacation
- Best Science Museums for Kids Across the U.S.
- For Great Family Vacations, Plan Around Special Events
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Total Solar Eclipse photo credit: Dr. Gordon Telepun, MD
Keri Lyn is an Idaho girl, born and raised. She shares her country home with her husband Brady, a veterinarian, and their two children–a son (10) and a…