Total solar eclipses are often dismissed as merely a fleeting period of darkness in the day but they’re actually a short, spectacular view of the sun’s ice-white corona. As the moon completely blocks the sun for a few minutes, that pulsing corona – the sun’s usually invisible outer atmosphere – appears. For these few precious minutes, the sun, moon, Earth (and you) are aligned, and it’s safe to remove eclipse glasses – and see one of the most stunning sights of your life.
On 21 August, this dramatic experience will be visible in 12 US states and could mean between 10 and 100 million Americans on the road. Location is vital to making the most of the event: to see “totality” you must put yourself within its 60-70-mile-wide path, which stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. It is along this corridor that the deepest part of the moon’s shadow will rush – from west to east across the US; for the first time in 99 years – in exactly 90 minutes.
Most people in the US will see only a partial eclipse, but totality, one of nature’s rarest spectacles, is there for anyone willing to study the maps and make careful travel plans. The US’s first social media-era total solar eclipse is coming; get ready. Here are some great sites and dedicated festivals for making the most of this magnificent moment.
GREAT VIEWS AND FESTIVALS
Wind River Country, Wyoming
The prospects for clear skies here are good and, by lucky chance, a 120-mile stretch of Highway 61 between Riverton – in Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation – and Caspar runs almost exactly along the centre of the path of totality. That could be useful for driving away from clouds. The Riverton area has many camping spots and the Jim Moss Arena, which is temporarily offering camping, is a good choice. It is 15 miles north-west of the town and has tipis ($270 for two nights) and camping pitches ($25 a night). It’s also staging free barrel races (like rodeo, but around obstacles) on Saturday and Sunday (19 and 20 August).
Riverton will see totality on 21 August at 11.39am for 2 minutes 21 seconds.
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Agate Fossil Beds national monument, Nebraska
The vast plains in Nebraska’s Sioux County promise big clear skies and relative seclusion. Famed for hiking and its fossils of Miocene mammals, the Agate Fossil Beds national monument is planning several free events. The preceding weekend (19/20 August) will see stargazing, Native American sky stories, and designated areas for viewing the eclipse with astronomers. On the big day, expect lots of amateur astronomers wielding telescopes with solar filters. Primitive and RV camping is available in Scottsbluff, Gering and Mitchell to the south, and Harrison and Fort Robinson state park to the north.
Totality at 11.47am for 2 minutes 23 seconds.
Nashville Zoo, Grassmere, Tennessee
“Music City” is one of the few places with hotel rooms still to sell, though at this late stage you will have to base yourself in the suburbs to make it affordable. Nashville Zoo, in Grassmere, six miles south-east of downtown, is holding an Animal Observation Experience, asking guests to record how its animals react during totality. Expect confused behaviour from some species as day briefly turns to night (its flamingo, gibbon and meerkat exhibits could be especially interesting). Close to the zoo are La Quinta Inn Nashville South ($159 B&B) and Red Roof Inn Nashville Fairgrounds ($81 room only).
Totality at 1.27pm for 1 minute 57 seconds.
Counterculture festivals, Oregon
For some, the eclipse may be the biggest cultural event in the US since Woodstock in 1969, and there are certainly plenty of festivals planned. Oregon SolarFest 2017 ($150 for five nights camping) and Solar Celebration 2017 ($250 for four nights camping) are both in Madras, Oregon, which is well-placed for clear skies. However, some will find it hard to resist Moonstock ($100 for four days camping) on a vineyard in Carterville, Illinois. At 1.20pm, Ozzy Osbourne will start his Moonstock concert with Bark at the Moon as totality descends for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Eclipse Crossroads of America, Illinois
On average any spot on the globe will see a total solar eclipse about once every 375 years, but the Little Egypt region of Illinois is lucky: totality will come twice to them in just seven years – on 21 August this year, and again in 2024. The paths of both eclipses cross just south of Carbondale, Illinois. Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale is planning a huge public viewing event ($50 adults) at its Saluki stadium, and Nasa will broadcast live from it. Camping ($40 a night) is available in its Student Recreation Center. Amtrak’s daily Saluki service runs from Chicago Union Station to Carbondale in five hours ($65 return).
Totality at 1.20pm for 2 minutes and 38 seconds
ECLIPSE EVENTS ON 21 AUGUST
The Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience, Madras, Oregon
For first-time eclipsechasers, it’s hard to beat an organised event with astronomers on hand. Held at Madras High School in Oregon, the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience 2017 ($15) is a public viewing organised by the observatory in Arizona that discovered Pluto in 1930. There will be telescopes, and announcements about exactly when to remove eclipse glasses. Star parties will be held on the surrounding days.
Totality at 10.19am for 2 minutes 4 seconds.
Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska
The UK won’t see totality until 2090, and Stonehenge in Wiltshire will have to wait for more than 500 years – so the next best viewing ’henge is Carhenge, a few miles north of Alliance in Nebraska. A replica Stonenhenge was built here in 1987 using 39 vintage American cars painted grey. The viewing event is free, but parking costs $10.
Totality at 11.49am for 2 minutes 18 seconds.
Total Eclipse of the Park, Keizer, Oregon
Minor league baseball team Salem-Keizer Volcanoes will play a morning game on 21 August that will feature the first ever “eclipse delay” in baseball history. Spectators at the three-day Volcanoes EclipseFest ($50-$60) get commemorative eclipse safety glasses, and a tasting glass for tipples at the post-game BrewFest.
Totality at 10.17am for 1 minute 47 seconds.
St Joseph Eclipse, Missouri
A free public eclipse viewing event is being held at St Joseph’s Rosecrans Memorial airport, the southern end of which is right under the centreline of the path of totality. The St Joseph Eclipse has been 21 years in the planning – by Michael E Bakich, senior editor at Astronomy magazine – so expect a highly organised event, with astronomy lectures and plenty of solar telescopes for close-ups of the partial phase.
Totality at 1.06pm for 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
Tallulah Gorge Total Solar Eclipse Festival, Georgia
Just 15 miles of north-east Georgia is crossed by the path of totality, but it has some picturesque possibilities. In an area of spectacular waterfalls, Tallulah Gorge state park is holding a free observation event with live music, telescopes, and experts on hand to answer questions. Parking is $5.
Totality at 2.36 pm for 2 minutes 33 seconds.