Countdown to The Total Solar Eclipse 2017 - Planning Ahead

By no exaggeration, the total solar eclipse in the summer of 2017 will be one of the most epic astronomical events of the century.   While total solar eclipses in themselves are not all that unique, on a planet covered mostly with water being able to easily witness an eclipse is a major event that many people may not experience in their lifetimes.  The upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21st, 2017 will be visible by a long stretch of easily accessible area in the United States with millions of people living in or within a reasonable driving distance. Every news station across the world will likely be covering this event, but if you want to see the total solar eclipse in person here are the basics to know:

Eclipse day is August 21st. 

The path of totality stretches from Oregon to South Carolina.  Optimal viewing points can be had in 13 states.  While the eclipse will pass over Montana, there are no roads, towns or accessible areas in that area of the state.

Plan ahead!  Now is the time to book a hotel, campground or rent property in or near the path of totality.  Rooms, RV and camp spots across the country are already booked to capacity.  As we head into 2017, those rates are sure to go up and availability will be extremely sparse.

Try to be Flexible.

Clouds are the bane of any astronomer.  If possible, plan on having transportation so you can get to a clear spot in the event of a cloudy or hazy day.  While a light haze wil not stop you from seeing the eclipse, heavy clouds will.  Late Summer storms in the midwest can spawn in a short period of time.  You can be sure weather stations and eclipse watch websites will have round the clock cloud cover updates within the day leading up to the eclipse, be sure to check in the morning and make a plan B... or C!

There are several excellent spots along the path of the eclipse totality and if you live near the centerline, map out the roads and drive!   Check out NASA's map of totality for a general idea of the eclipse path.  The eclipse totality starts in the mid morning to mid afternoon depending on where you are in the US, leaving plenty of time make a day trip of it.  Be sure to be safe and never pull off the road where you shouldn't or onto private property without permission.  The viewing hotspots from west to east are:

Madras, Oregon: Madras will enjoy a full 2 minutes and 4 seconds of totality beginning at 10:19am PDT.   Unlike coastal Oregon, the eastern areas of Oregon enjoy a majority of sunny days.   About two hours by car from Portland, Madras is easily accessible.   Take in views of Mt. Jefferson as the eclipse darkens the surrounding terrain.  Look to the larger town of Redmond to the South or Bend, for lodging options.    Camping in the nearby Warm Springs Reservation area is also an excellent choice for nearly 2 minutes of totality.

Snake River Valley, Idaho:  With a peak totality time of 2 minutes 18 seconds starting at 11:33  MDT this wide open area of Idaho offers a great opportunity to evade bad weather and move if necessary as it's laced with roads and dotted with towns and National Park lands including Ammon, Rexburg, and camping near the Tetons offer your best shot at lodging.

Casper, Wyoming:  Totality time of 2 minutes 26 seconds starting at 11:42 MDT.  Casper is going to be a hotbed of eclipse activity playing host to AstroCon 2017 the day prior to the eclipse.  At the time of this posting, places to stay in Casper including camping, were nearly completely booked.  With major highways going in all directions, typically excellent weather in August this is a prime location.   Small towns dot the entire surrounding area. If you're hoping to stay in Casper, vacation rentals from savvy nearby towns may be your best bet.

Western Nebraska, Sandhills: Another prime location thanks to 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality time starting at 11:49 MDT, the Sandhill area of western Nebraska offers wide open highways that lace the area and several small towns to keep you fueled, fed, housed while you chase the eclipse.  With wide open spaces, and small populations nights are wonderfully dark as well making for excellent night time viewing and imaging.

St. Joseph, Missouri:  2 minutes and 39 seconds of totality beginning at 1:06pm CDT, St. Joseph Missouri is the largest city to enjoy the longest totality.  Head to the Rosecrans Memorial Airport if you're looking for a solar party, a large event has been planned there for eclipse day.

Carbondale, Illinois: Home to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale will enjoy a full 2 minutes and 41.6 seconds of totality starting at1:20 p.m. CDT.  The Carbondale area is a sure bet for the longest totality time but be sure to map our your east and west routes as there are several highways intersecting here and you'll want to be able to chase the Sun if needed.  Carbondale is a solar crossing point.  The April 8th 2024 solar eclipse will also pass through here.  Head to 37º 34’ 4.3” North latitude, 89º 06’ 10.0” West longitude for the absolutely longest eclipse viewing.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky or Clarksville, Tennessee:  Starting at 1:24pm CDT Hopkinsville will have 2 minutes 41.2 seconds of totality.   If you're looking for a party, this may be the most festive spot to view the eclipse with a crowd.  Look to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee for a larger city and more lodging options.  Clarksville itself will enjoy over 2 minutes of totality.

Nashville or Gallatin, Tennessee:  The largest city in the entire path of totality.   Eclipse totality starts at 1:27pm CDT and will last 1 minute 57 seconds.   Nashville will be the most populated area for the eclipse and while it is about 20 miles from the centerline, this major city does get nearly two minutes of totality.  If you're looking for city lodging Nashville is the spot to be but if it's the centerline you're after, Gallatin Tennesee is your spot and is about a half an hour drive from Nashville.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park or Nantahala National Forest:  These vast natural areas on the Carolina/ Georgia border will see 1 minute and 17 seconds to 2 minutes 39 seconds of totality starting at 2:35pm EDT.  There are many camping spots within these parks and the surrounding natural beauty will be a magnificent backdrop to the eclipse.    Catch the shadow of the moon racing across the landscape here.

Columbia, South Carolina: The last opportunity to catch the eclipse in an inland town before it reaches the Atlantic.  Columbia and surrounding towns will get 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality starting at 2:43pm EDT.   Chances for a clear day are greater than in coastal towns. The densely populated area provides excellent opportunities for available lodging and dozens of major roads in and near the town provide great routes for chasing sunny skies.


Gear Up Now.

Solar brands are planning on having heavy supply for 2017, but the closer we get to the eclipse the more likely the telescope, filter, or binoculars you want may be difficult to get.  As of January, we are already seeing longer than typical delivery times.  Some telescopes could take months to arrive once an order is placed due to high demand and preplanning means you get what you want, well ahead of the eclipse.  As of this posting, there is already a moderate backorder time on many popular telescope and filter sizes though delivery is expected by this upcoming Spring.  Check out our guide on solar equipment to find the telescope, filter or accessory that's right for you and your budget.

Save your eyes. Only equipment sanctioned for safe solar observing should be used to view or photograph the Sun.  Solar equipment marked especially for photography and videography is typically not safe for observing.  Be careful and have fun! 

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