Living in the Future

The paths of the next and last coast-to-coast total solar eclipses in the U.S.

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If someone asked you to picture the world in the year 2116, 99 years from now, what would you see? Would you see flying cars and colonies on Mars? The future usually doesn’t turn out quite the way we imagine it might. And the world of today probably looks nothing like the Americans of 1918 pictured it. So when the Topeka State Journal published an article on June 8, 1918, about the total solar eclipse that would occur over Kansas that day, with a headline saying “Next Total Eclipse Here Will Be in 2017,” who knows what kinds of images the good folks of Kansas conjured up in their minds.

The June 8, 1918, Topeka State Journal headline about the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S.

The Topeka State Journal might have been the one and only newspaper to mention “2017” in a headline that day and NationalEclipse.com has been sharing it online as an example that illustrates that the people who saw the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. might have been thinking about us in the distant future, at least abstractly. It’s an intriguing concept and we thought it would be fun to try to find other mentions of the year 2017 in the contemporary newspaper articles that reported on the 1918 eclipse. There aren’t many, but the few we found are interesting.

But before we take a look at some of those articles, one note of caution. Many of the newspaper stories about eclipses past note how observers used “smoked glass” to view an eclipse. Fortunately, we know a lot more about eye safety today than we did 100 years ago. And we have the technology available to manufacture materials that we know will block 100 percent of the Sun’s harmful infrared and ultraviolet light and all but a tiny fraction of its visible light, allowing us to safely observe an eclipse without damaging our eyes. Always use special eclipse safety glasses when any part of the Sun’s disc is showing and never use items like “smoked glass” or anything else that hasn’t been certified safe for direct solar viewing.

Indeed, the story published by the Alliance Herald on June 13, several days after the 1918 eclipse, notes that the 92 percent partial eclipse in Alliance, Nebraska, was such a big event that observers had a difficult time holding on to their smoked glass. But this article is especially noteworthy because the year 2017 is mentioned by a newspaper located in a town that’s within the 2017 path of totality. It’s a short article, but the Herald reports that “the event was interesting from every standpoint; this eclipse will not occur again for 99 years, the next eclipse occurring in 2017.” In fact, several more total eclipses would be visible in the U.S. during the intervening years, so the newspaper must have been referring to the relatively rare coast-to-coast nature of the 1918 and 2017 eclipses. We wonder if the editors knew that the path of totality would cross right over their own town in 2017.

An article from the Alliance Herald on June 13, 1918. Note that it’s never safe to use homemade items such as “smoked glass” to view an eclipse.

The short blurb about the 1918 eclipse printed on June 14 by the Holt County Sentinel of Oregon, Missouri, reminds us that there was a world war raging in Europe when the eclipse passed overhead in the U.S. Apparently nobody noticed the incorrect date reference, May 8 instead of June 8, before going to print and again we see that observers were using unsafe “smoked glass” to view the 88 percent partial eclipse at their location. Oregon, Missouri, is also within the path of the 2017 eclipse and again we wonder if the locals were aware of this. We also wonder if the newspaper was being playful or if someone just didn’t do the math when they suggested that “those who did not see the eclipse will have another opportunity in the year 2017.”

The Holt County Sentinel, June 14, 1918.

The Arizona Republican published an article on May 30 previewing the 73 percent partial eclipse expected in Phoenix, commenting on the rarity of the coast-to-coast path by saying that “not for 99 years—until 2017—will a similar opportunity come to the United States.” The paper also roughly estimates that it will be an additional 360 years before another total solar eclipse will cross over the states along the 1918 path of totality, apparently not realizing that parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Kansas would all be within the path of the 2017 eclipse.

The Arizona Republican, May 30, 1918.
The Arizona Republican printed a nice map of the 1918 path of totality.

Back east, the New York Sun published reports from the path of totality as well as a local account of the 60 percent partial eclipse in the Big Apple. Not only does the Sun take note of the 2017 eclipse—even mentioning August!—but the paper also cites some of the other upcoming total eclipses in the U.S., in 1923, 1925, 1970, and 1979.

New York Sun - June 9. 1918
The New York Sun mentioned the August 2017 eclipse in its June 9, 1918, edition.
New York Sun - June 9, 1918
Also mentioned by the Sun in 1918 are the upcoming 1923, 1925, 1970, and 1979 eclipses in the U.S.

Finally, we noticed one other reference to the 2017 National Eclipse printed in newspapers around the country in the days following the 1918 event. In his syndicated “On the Spur of the Moment” column of funny facts and amusing anecdotes, humorist Roy K. Moulton says “the next eclipse of the sun visible hereabouts is scheduled for August 2017. Judging by the performance this month, it won’t be worth waiting for.” Perhaps Moulton was clouded out and disappointed with what he saw on June 8. Either that, or what he’s saying is somehow supposed to be funny and we’re just not getting the 1918 humor.

A reference to a disappointing eclipse viewing or a 1918 attempt at humor?

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Debunking the National Eclipse

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(Eclipse photo by Luc Viatour / http://www.Lucnix.be)

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In our last post, Staying Safe on August 21, we called attention to the fact that the media sometimes inadvertently provides incorrect or dangerous information about how to safely view a solar eclipse. Needless to say, this is a disturbing pattern because so many people never think to verify or fact check what they read or hear in the news. Unfortunately, that blind faith can lead to irreparable eye damage on August 21. But the media, and people in general, also make other kinds of factual mistakes and false assumptions when it comes to the subject of solar eclipses. Some of these errors are the result of long-held beliefs; others are simply due to an innocent mistake that quickly spreads and propagates online. Although these mistakes don’t necessarily put anyone in danger, they do undermine the public’s understanding and appreciation of the National Eclipse and eclipses in general. To help set the record straight, here are some of the more common eclipse-related inaccuracies and our efforts to debunk them:

The National Eclipse will be a “rare” event. The word “rare” is a relative term. Its meaning depends on the context in which it’s used. A total solar eclipse isn’t a particularly rare event when you consider that one happens someplace on Earth about once every 18 months. If you wanted to, and if you had the resources to do so, you could see dozens of them in a lifetime. What most people would consider rare is the occurrence of a total solar eclipse for any one spot on Earth. It’s been calculated that, on average, a total solar eclipse can be seen from the same place only once every 375 years, although the time span can also be much more or much less. So, will the National Eclipse be a “rare” event? Not for the planet. But maybe for your city. Let’s just try to keep things in perspective.

The National Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse in the U.S. since 1918. This is a fallacy that’s been spreading online by way of several recent news stories. Of course, this spawns more news stories, and on and on we go. In fact, the National Eclipse on August 21 will be the sixteenth total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. since 1918, ten of which occurred in the contiguous 48 states. So, where does the confusion come from and what does 1918 have to do with anything? 1918 was the last time a total solar eclipse crossed the U.S. from coast to coast, which the National Eclipse will also do. This has led to a lot of talk about the 1918 eclipse in particular, and some people have jumped to the conclusion that that eclipse was also the last one to occur in the U.S. Not so. Just ask those who witnessed totality in the Hawaiian Islands in 1991 or in the Pacific Northwest in 1979.

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There were 12 total solar eclipses in the contiguous U.S. during the 20th century.

The National Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse exclusive to the U.S. since 1776. Okay, maybe we’re splitting hairs with this one, because this statement is essentially correct. But the way it’s often worded can be misleading. One of the most exciting things about the National Eclipse, and one of the reasons why it’s called the National Eclipse in the first place, is the fact that it will be the first eclipse with a path of totality that doesn’t touch any other country other than the United States since before there even was a United States. You have to look all the way back to 1257 to find another total eclipse that was exclusive to present-day U.S. soil. But there was no total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 1776. There wasn’t one anywhere in the world that year. A better way to word this claim would be to say that the National Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse exclusive to the U.S. since before the nation’s founding in 1776. Come to think of it, if there had been a total eclipse over the 13 original colonies in 1776, the symbolism it might have suggested to the patriots could very well have become part of the American historical tradition.

City X will be the best place to view the National Eclipse. This is a claim that you’ll see quite often. And—no surprise—it’s usually made by a local newspaper or tourist bureau. There is no single “best” or “greatest” place to see the National Eclipse. Every eclipse chaser needs to evaluate what’s most important to them and then decide where their own personal “best” place is. If you need to travel to see the eclipse, should you choose the closest location to your home or should you visit another area with other attractions that you’ve always wanted to see? Or maybe better weather odds in another part of the country is more important to you. And, of course, you need to factor in your distance to the centerline to ensure a long duration of totality. Should you locate yourself directly on the centerline and squeeze every second of totality out of your experience? Some cities and towns on the centerline would like you to do that. But maybe it makes more sense to sacrifice a few seconds of totality in another place that has better weather prospects in late August. These are the difficult questions that you need to ask yourself. When you’ve come up with an answer, you’ll have found your “best” place to view the National Eclipse.

The National Eclipse will be a lunar eclipse. We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this one because it’s so annoyingly untrue and the result of journalistic sloppiness more than anything else. But you will see this statement from time to time, sometimes in the headlines of newspaper articles. Usually, the reporter correctly states in the body of the article that the eclipse will be solar but someone else at the newspaper is responsible for writing headlines and they don’t have a clue that a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse are two completely different things. The terms are not interchangeable in the least. Hopefully, this misconception will peter out as we get closer to August 21.

The National Eclipse will be a “sunrise” eclipse. This is a fallacy that’s been making the rounds recently. Apparently, somebody noticed that the National Eclipse will begin at sunrise. But, guess what? With very few exceptions, every solar eclipse begins at sunrise! And every solar eclipse also ends at sunset. Sometimes, by mere chance, an eclipse will begin over land instead of over water, which means that people in that location are able to see an “eclipse sunrise.” But the path of totality doesn’t start over land on August 21. It starts at sunrise in the North Pacific Ocean about halfway between Hawaii and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. By the time it makes landfall in Oregon, the local time will be 9:04am with the Sun already about 27 degrees above the horizon. Nobody within the path of totality will see a “sunrise” eclipse on August 21.

Sunrise Eclipse
A sunrise eclipse over Germany in 2003. (Photo by Wikimedia user Schtone)

Being close to the path of totality is close enough. For a total solar eclipse, the path of totality is the narrow track across the Earth along which the darkest part of the Moon’s shadow, the umbra, will travel. On either side of the path’s width an eclipse is only partial, with the percentage of obscuration incrementally decreasing the farther you get from the edge of the path. Some people make the false assumption that being close to this path is close enough. After all, a 98 or 99 percent partial eclipse sounds impressive. But the difference between a total eclipse and even a 99.9 percent partial eclipse is like the difference between day and night, literally. It’s like turning a light on and off. There’s no in-between. Either you’re in the path of totality where the eclipse will be total or you’re not. If you’re outside the path by even a mile, you’ll miss out on all of the phenomena associated with a total solar eclipse, like the full darkening of the sky, the appearance of the solar corona, and the 360-degree sunset. True, you’ll still experience some subtle eclipse effects even a few hundred miles outside the path of totality. Depending on how deep the partial eclipse is in your location, you might notice a change in the character of the sunlight and the landscape might take on a slightly unusual look. But this pales in comparison to what you’ll witness inside the umbral path. Trust us. When it comes to eclipses, close isn’t close enough.

The world will end on August 21. Sigh. Does this really need to be debunked? Inevitably, though, you’ve probably already started seeing doomsday claims associated with August 21. If the world does indeed end on August 21, you can tell us “we told you so.” But there’s no basis whatsoever for these claims. The world doesn’t end every time the Sun goes behind a cloud. Neither are there earthquakes or volcanoes. There’s really nothing “special” about a solar eclipse in terms of the effect it has on the Earth. Yes, the temperature decreases during totality and scientists have discovered other subtle phenomena. But there’s nothing that’s, literally, earthshaking. From a biblical or spiritual perspective, we need to remember that total eclipses happen all the time, relatively speaking. There was one last year. There was one in the U.S. in 1979 and 1991. As many as five solar eclipses can occur each year. The purpose here isn’t to ridicule any person or any group who makes these assertions, but some people are legitimately afraid when they hear these claims. We don’t want the National Eclipse to be the cause of fear. We want people to look forward to this event and celebrate it when it arrives. It will be an amazing opportunity to witness the mechanics of our solar system and an awe-inspiring celestial phenomenon that most people will never get the chance to experience.

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Staying Safe on August 21

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You’ll need a pair of special eclipse safety glasses or viewers to stay safe on August 21.

(Need eclipse gear for August 21? Visit the NationalEclipse.com eclipse store.)

The most important thing to consider when planning for a solar eclipse isn’t your location within the path of totality, your distance to the centerline, or even the weather. It’s eye safety. If you attempt to view an eclipse incorrectly, there’s a really great chance your souvenir of the eclipse will be irreparable eye damage or even blindness. We all want to make lifelong memories on August 21, but those memories should be indelibly imprinted onto our minds, not our retinas.

Unfortunately, the media sometimes neglects to mention the importance of solar eclipse eye safety and occasionally they even unwittingly provide incorrect or dangerous information. Recently, one of the largest media companies in the world suggested that people should use sunglasses to view the eclipse on August 21. Of course, ordinary or polorized sunglasses are never safe to use for eclipse viewing. Another media outlet encouraged readers to get their binoculars ready for the eclipse and never mentioned the fact that optical devices like cameras, binoculars, and telescopes need specially designed solar filters that fit snugly on the front end (the Sun side) of the device. Attempting to view an eclipse with an unfiltered optical device is like holding a magnifying glass to your eye while focusing direct sunlight through the lens. No, you definitely don’t want to do that.

Our hope is that as we get closer to August 21, the media will take the subject of eye safety more seriously and communicate the proper and safe way to view a solar eclipse as carefully and unambiguously as possible. Too many eyes are at risk not to get this information right every single time. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know to stay safe on August 21:

Use Eclipse Safety Glasses or Viewers

You must use special eclipse safety glasses or viewers to view a partial eclipse, an annular eclipse, and the partial phases of a total eclipse. (For the record, on August 21, the U.S. will have a total eclipse that will be partial most of the time within the path of totality and partial all of the time outside the path of totality.) Although it may be tempting to look directly at an eclipse with unprotected eyes when so much of the Sun is obscured, the small amount of light emitted during even a 99.9 percent partial eclipse is still dangerous. The only time it’s safe to look at a total eclipse without proper eye protection is during the very brief period of “totality” when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon. If you’re not located within the narrow path of totality where the eclipse will become total for a very brief period of time, there is never a time when it’s safe to look with unprotected eyes.

Be Wary of Phony Glasses

Make sure that your eclipse safety glasses or viewers are certified as meeting ISO standards for safe solar viewing. The current standard for safe solar viewing is ISO 12312-2; your eclipse glasses or viewers should have this designation printed on them. Take care to purchase your glasses or viewers from a reputable seller and be wary of knockoff products that claim to be safe but aren’t. Be very careful and don’t use any product unless claims of safety can be verified. (NASA is reporting that unsafe eclipse glasses are being distributed and has recognized five manufacturers as producing certified safe eclipse glasses and viewers: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), and TSE 17.) We recommend the products made by Rainbow Symphony. The NationalEclipse.com eclipse store provides direct links to many Rainbow Symphony items on Amazon.com. Before using your glasses or viewers, make sure that they are not damaged in any way (lenses shouldn’t have scratches or wrinkles) and that you read all of the safety instructions that came with them. Children should always be supervised by a responsible adult when using eclipse safety glasses or viewers.

Don’t Improvise

Unless a product has been specifically designed for safe solar viewing and has been certified as meeting international standards for such products, it’s best to assume that a device, method, or instrument is unsafe. Don’t risk it! Items such as regular or polarized sunglasses, smoked glass, exposed film, medical x-rays, homemade filters, and many others are all unsafe. You can use welder’s glass to view an eclipse, but it must be #14 welder’s glass; any rating below #14 is not safe. It’s also safe to view an eclipse using indirect methods, such as projecting an image of the eclipsed Sun onto a white screen. Search online for “pinhole projector” and follow the instructions provided by a trusted organization like NASA to make your own.

Protect Your Eyes Before and After Totality

The August 21 eclipse will become total for a very short period of time only in the narrow path of totality. If you’re located in the path of totality, don’t remove your eclipse glasses until the very last bit of the Sun is gone, including “Baily’s beads” and the “diamond ring.” Again, it’s only safe to look with unprotected eyes when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon and only the soft wisps of the solar corona are visible. Once totality begins, it’s important to know precisely when totality will be ending in your exact location so that you can once again put on your eclipse glasses before the first brightness of the exposed Sun is revealed. The definitive source to determine the exact start time, end time, and duration of totality for any location is NASA’s interactive Google map of the eclipse. You should also allow for a very generous margin of error to ensure that you are no longer looking with unprotected eyes when totality ends (and keep in mind that your clock or watch may not be in sync with astronomical time!). Additionally, NASA advises that you should pay careful attention to the edge of the Moon opposite of where the Sun last appeared. When you start to notice a very slight crescent-shaped brightening, you’ll know that totality is coming to an end. This is your signal to look away or put your eclipse glasses back on before the first flash of exposed sunlight. As mentioned earlier, children should always be supervised by an adult who fully and clearly understands safe eclipse viewing procedures.

Optical Devices Must Have Solar Filters

As already noted, attempting to view an eclipse using cameras, binoculars, telescopes, or other optical devices without proper solar filters is extremely hazardous and can permanently damage the eyes in an instant. These devices need specially designed solar filters that fit snugly on the front end (the Sun side) of the device. Never attempt to view an eclipse through an optical device using eclipse glasses or any type of filter that attaches to the viewing side (as opposed to the Sun side) of the instrument; the focused light will destroy the filter and enter and damage your eyes. Remember the magnifying glass analogy? Since viewing or photographing a solar eclipse with an optical device requires specialized equipment and knowledge, your best bet is to consult with a qualified astronomer or just enjoy the eclipse with your own eyes using the safe eclipse viewing procedures already mentioned.

For more information on how to safely view a solar eclipse, see the excellent pages on viewing safety by the American Astronomical Society and NASA.

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(Need eclipse gear for August 21? Visit the NationalEclipse.com eclipse store.)

Ten Unique Places to View the National Eclipse

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Ten unique places to view the National Eclipse on August 21, 2017.

(Need eclipse gear for August 21? Visit the NationalEclipse.com eclipse store.)

With less than a year to go until the National Eclipse touches down in the U.S., the obligatory top ten lists of the “best” or “greatest” viewing sites are starting to pop up in the media and around the web. Usually, these lists focus on places with the most promising weather prospects, the longest durations of totality, or the most interesting local attractions. To be sure, these lists are valuable if you’re still trying to decide where to go to see the eclipse. But for our list, we decided to resist the temptation to mimic what everyone else is doing and instead add some levity to the decisionmaking process by offering our picks for the most quirky, outrageous, or just plain unique places to view the National Eclipse. On August 21, 2017, everyone should seek out clear skies and long durations, but if you want a good story too, this list is for you. Here are our picks, presented from west to east along the path of totality:

1. Fishing Rock — Lincoln Beach, Oregon. On the coast of Oregon there’s an unincorporated community called Lincoln Beach, population about 2,000. On the south end of the beach for which the town is named is a spit of land called Fishing Rock that juts out a few hundred feet into the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, you can walk out onto Fishing Rock. And if you happen to be standing there at exactly 10:15am PT on August 21, 2017, you’ll be among the first people in the U.S. to see the National Eclipse and you’ll be the very first person to see the centerline, where the eclipse lasts the longest, make landfall.

Of course, you can’t actually see an imaginary centerline, but that’s where it will first touch U.S. soil, just off the southern edge of Fishing Rock. Plus, your elevated vantage point might give you a really good glimpse of the Moon’s shadow as it races toward you across the ocean in the moments before totality. It’s unclear how early you’ll need to arrive in order to secure a spot on that narrow rock. If you arrive too early, when it’s still dark, you’ll be risking life and limb on the cliffs. The other risk is that morning clouds or fog along the Oregon coast might spoil the event for observers. But if you manage to safely find a spot and the weather cooperates, Fishing Rock definitely qualifies as a unique place to view the National Eclipse.

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Fishing Rock in Lincoln Beach, Oregon. (Photo by Scott Catron)

The eclipse will begin at Fishing Rock at approximately 9:04am PT with totality starting at about 10:15am PT and lasting for around one minute and 59 seconds.

2. Volcanoes EclipseFest — Keizer, Oregon. All around the U.S., minor league baseball teams are known for their goofy promotions and silly gimmicks. Even some of the team names are absurd: the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Lansing Lugnuts, the Montgomery Biscuits. But the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes have come up with one of the zaniest (and best!) minor league baseball promotions of all time.

The Volcanoes, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, will host a three-game brewfest on August 18, 19, and 20. But that’s not the best part. The celebration will culminate with a morning game on August 21 that will feature the first ever “eclipse delay” in baseball history. As the moment of totality approaches, the game will be paused, fans and players alike will don their Volcanoes-branded eclipse glasses, and everyone in the ballpark will witness the sight of a lifetime. After totality, the game will resumeno tarp roll-up necessary. If you’re a baseball fan, how can you resist?

The eclipse will begin at Volcanoes Stadium at approximately 9:05am PT with totality starting at about 10:17am PT and lasting for around one minute and 49 seconds.

3. 1918 Viewing Site — Baker City, Oregon. Before 2017, the last time a total solar eclipse swept across the U.S. from coast to coast was 1918. That eclipse, too, entered the U.S. in the Pacific Northwest. There aren’t too many places where the paths of both the 1918 and 2017 eclipses overlap before they diverge, but Baker City, Oregon, is one of them and that’s where a U.S. Naval Observatory team stationed itself to observe the 1918 eclipse. Led by astronomer John C. Hammond, the team included eclipse expert Samuel Alfred Mitchell and artist Howard Russell Butler, whose painting of the eclipse was important in a day before reliable color photography.

According to an expedition report written by Hammond, “an ideal site was obtained at the fair grounds which were located about a mile from the center of the city.” Maybe someone in Baker City can tell you if the original fairgrounds still exist. If so, and if you’re an astronomy history buff and think this might be cool, maybe you can view the eclipse from that exact spot and follow in the footsteps of the men from 1918.

The eclipse will begin at downtown Baker City at approximately 9:09am PT with totality starting at about 10:24am PT and lasting for around one minute and 34 seconds.

4. Craters of the Moon National Monument — Butte County, Idaho. On May 2, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation establishing Craters of the Moon National Monument. Today, it encompasses over 1,000 square miles of volcanic features and lava fields.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument. (Photo by National Park Service)

Certainly, there are lots of scenic places and stunning vistas along the path of totality, especially in the western U.S., from which you can view the National Eclipse. But where else can you bask in the shadow of the Moon in a place that purportedly looks like the Moon? Granted, most of Craters of the Moon National Monument lies outside the path of totality to the south. If you want to see a total eclipse, you’ll need to find an access point in the very northern reaches of the preserve, just below the town of Arco, Idaho. And even then, you might only get a little more than a minute of totality. But the landscape will be otherworldly.

The eclipse will begin at the northern tip of Craters of the Moon National Monument at approximately 10:13am MT with totality starting at about 11:31am MT and lasting for around one minute and 16 seconds.

5. Carhenge — Alliance, Nebraska. If you’ll be in western Nebraska on August 21, 2017, consider viewing the National Eclipse from Carhenge. It’s one of several viewing sites designated by the city of Alliance and it’s arguably one of the most unique along the path.

If you can imagine Stonehenge, but with automobiles instead of stone monoliths, that’s Carhenge. Conceived by Jim Reinders in 1987 as a memorial to his father who lived on the site, it was constructed with 39 vintage American-made cars. The cars, painted gray to mirror Stonehenge, are arranged in a circle to closely replicate the prehistoric astronomical site in England. It may all be a bit kooky, but it’s pure Americana right in the heartland…so maybe, it’s the perfect place to view a total eclipse that will be visible only in America. Plus, it’s virtually right on the centerline.

The eclipse will begin at Carhenge at approximately 10:27am MT with totality starting at about 11:49am MT and lasting for around two minutes and 29 seconds.

6. The Iowa Triangle — Fremont County, Iowa. If you’ve already done some research on where to view the National Eclipse, you’ve probably at least memorized the 12 states through which the path of totality will travel, from Oregon in the west to South Carolina in the east. If so, you’re probably wondering Iowa? The eclipse doesn’t travel through Iowa. But it does. As the path of totality exits Nebraska, the northern line of the path makes a short side trip into Fremont County, Iowa, before entering Missouri. The word “short” is really an overstatement here. It amounts to a distance of less than two miles and the resulting wedge of farmlandwhich we’ve dubbed the “Iowa Triangle”is just shy of a mile square.

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The National Eclipse will travel through a tiny slice of Iowa on August 21, 2017.

If you’d like to forever be known as the only person to have witnessed totality in Iowa on August 21, 2017, here’s your chance (assuming nobody else shows up). There are exactly three roads that can be used to access the Iowa Triangle: 240th Avenue, County Road J64, and 100th Street, which forms the bottom side of the triangle as it runs along the Iowa-Missouri state line. Since this eclipse path anomaly occurs at the very northern limit of the path, totality here will be very, very short. But it will make for a good story and possibly a good claim to fame.

The eclipse will begin at the intersection of 100th Street and 240th Avenue at approximately 11:38am CT with totality starting at about 1:05pm CT and lasting for around 25 seconds.

7. Eclipse Crossroads — Jackson County, Illinois. After 2017, the next total solar eclipse to occur in the U.S. will take place on April 8, 2024. Since the 2017 eclipse crosses the country from northwest to southeast and the 2024 eclipse travels through the nation from southwest to northeast, the two paths cross each other and create a zone of overlapping totality in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and western Kentucky. If you stand in the same place within this totality zone on August 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024, you can tell your friends that you witnessed two total eclipses from the same spot in seven years. Pretty neat, right?

This totality zone is big, encompassing roughly 9,000 square miles. But when two eclipse paths cross each other, there can only be one unique point on Earth where both centerlines meet. For the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, that point is located near the eastern shore of Cedar Lake in Jackson County, Illinois. Of course, if you set up camp in the nearby town of Makanda, less than 4 miles away, nobody will dispute your claim that you saw the eclipse from the crossroads. In fact, even the largest nearby city, Carbondale, is calling itself the “eclipse crossroads of America.” What’s more, the 2017/2024 centerline crossing is coincidentally located only about ten miles from the “point of greatest duration” in 2017. If you decide to view the eclipse at or near the crossroads on August 21, you’ll also enjoy the longest total eclipse in the country.

The eclipse will begin at the centerline crossing at approximately 11:52am CT with totality starting at about 1:20pm CT and lasting for around two minutes and 40 seconds.

8. “Little Green Men” Days Festival — Kelly, Kentucky. Every year, the unincorporated community of Kelly, Kentucky, holds an event called the “Little Green Men” Days Festival. The festival commemorates a local encounter with supposed extraterrestrials, known as the Hopkinsville Goblins, that took place on August 21, 1955. Notice the date? The close encounter occurred on the exact date of the upcoming National Eclipse, 62 years before.

If the date connection isn’t enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, the site of the farmhouse where the encounter occurred just happens to be mere miles from the exact spot on the eclipse path where the Moon’s shadow aligns most closely with the Earth, called the “point of greatest eclipse.” Coincidence? Or are the Hopkinsville Goblins coming back on August 21, 2017? Some think they are. If you attend the “Little Green Men” Days Festival, you might just find out.

The eclipse will begin at the “Little Green Men” Days Festival at approximately 11:56am CT with totality starting at about 1:24pm CT and lasting for around two minutes and 38 seconds.

9. Clingman’s Dome — Swain County, North Carolina. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the third highest point in the eastern U.S. But since those other two peaks are outside the path of totality, that makes Clingman’s Dome the place to be in the east if you want to be as high as possible on August 21, 2017. As far as eclipses go, being up high has its advantages. You might be able to see the shadow of the Moon racing toward you across the landscape at faster than the speed of sound. And, especially here in the Great Smoky Mountains, it gets you up above any trees that might block your view of the sky.

As luck would have it, Clingman’s Dome is one of the most accessible mountains in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s a neat-looking observation tower at the top of the mountain that, needless to say, will be a very popular place on eclipse day. The 45-foot high concrete tower only has a 28-foot diameter platform, so space is definitely limited. Perhaps the National Park Service will make passes available via a lottery system. If not, you’ll need to show up really early.

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The observation tower at Clingman’s Dome. (Photo by Wikimedia user Dsdugan)

The eclipse will begin at Clingman’s Dome at approximately 1:06pm ET with totality starting at about 2:35pm ET and lasting for around one minute and 24 seconds.

Update: Indeed, the National Park Service has made Clingman’s Dome a ticketed event site. As of April, 2017, tickets are no longer available. Visit the National Park Service for more information.

10. Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge — Charleston County, South Carolina. Stretching along 22 miles of coastline and consisting of 66,000 acres of salt marshes, maritime forest, and coastal waterways, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is where the centerline of the National Eclipse will last touch U.S. soil. Most of the refuge is either not on solid ground or only accessible by water, which offers a convenient excuse to view the eclipse by boat if you’d like to be one of the very last people in the U.S. to wave goodbye to the shadow of the Moon as it heads out into the Atlantic Ocean before concluding its journey off the coast of Africa.

A couple of small fishing towns, like Awendaw and McClellanville, are located on the mainland adjacent to the refuge. You can bet that enterprising boat owners will be renting and chartering vessels of all types and sizes on August 21. For past eclipses, especially those that have occurred mainly over open ocean, entire cruises have been organized for the benefit of eclipse chasers. Maybe a few ship captains will offer something similar. But whatever your vessel of choicefrom rowboat to cruise shipand wherever you happen to bea few feet from the refuge or miles out at seabeing on the water as the National Eclipse exits the U.S. will unquestionably qualify as a unique eclipse experience.

The eclipse will begin at the eastern end of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge at approximately 1:18pm ET with totality starting at about 2:46pm ET and lasting for around two minutes and 34 seconds.

We’re not claiming any of these viewing sites are the “best” or “greatest” places to view the National Eclipse. They may not necessarily have the most promising weather prospects or the longest durations of totality and some of them may be far off the beaten track. If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse before, you may want to hedge your bet by selecting a site located close to the centerline in an area that offers a good possibility of favorable weather. On the other hand, if you’re a nonconformist who enjoys a good adventure, consider viewing the National Eclipse from one of these ten unique places. And even if you don’t, simply knowing about them is fun too.

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X Marks the Spot: Two Total Solar Eclipses in Seven Years

The paths of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses and where they will cross.

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It’s been said that, on average, a total solar eclipse can be seen from the same place only once every 375 years. The methodology used by whoever calculated this number is unknown and it’s debatable whether there can even be a definitive methodology for such a calculation. For instance, how many points on Earth do you use to arrive at an average number of years? But regardless of the math, there’s no denying the fact that a total solar eclipse is a relatively rare event for any given place. So, for an area to get not one, but two, total solar eclipses in just seven years is a truly remarkable occurrence!

An area spanning parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky will be the nexus of the next two total solar eclipses to occur in the U.S., on August 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024. Because the 2017 eclipse travels across the country from northwest to southeast and the 2024 eclipse makes its way through the nation from southwest to northeast, the two paths cross each other and create a zone of overlapping totality of almost 9,000 square miles, or roughly the size of New Jersey.

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The totality zone where the paths of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses will cross.

Although no major American cities are located within the totality zone, a few decent-sized ones are. In Illinois, Carbondale is located in the northern quadrant of the zone and Marion is located in the eastern. In the southern quadrant there’s Paducah, Kentucky, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Farmington, Missouri, is located in the western quadrant. The Shawnee National Forest is completely enclosed within the zone of totality and both the Mississippi and Ohio rivers run through it.

The centerline of any total solar eclipse path is where totality lasts the longest, and cities located on or near this line often promote themselves as being the very best place to view an eclipse. Of course, when two eclipse paths cross, there can only be one singular point on Earth where both centerlines meet. For the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, “X” marks the spot near the eastern shore of Cedar Lake in Jackson County, Illinois. Technically, the closest town to this exact astronomical treasure map spot is Makanda, population about 500. The nearest city of any size is Carbondale, located about three miles to the northeast. In fact, both Makanda and Carbondale are touting themselves as the place where the two centerlines cross, with Carbondale and its Southern Illinois University partner adopting the tagline “Eclipse Crossroads of America.” We’ll just split the difference and give Jackson County the bragging rights.

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The centerline crossing of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses.

After 2024, eight more total solar eclipses will occur in the U.S. this century, resulting in a few more centerline crossings. We’ll dedicate a future blog post to discuss where and when these will occur, although some of us probably won’t be around for all of them. In the meantime, if you’d enjoy the unique distinction of seeing two total solar eclipses in one place, start making plans to be in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, or western Kentucky on August 21, 2017, and mark your calendar to do the same for April 8, 2024.

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Why a Solar Eclipse Can Never Occur on Easter

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A full Moon. (Photo by Gregory H. Revera)

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This blog entry was originally posted on March 25, 2016.

Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year, one of those years when it feels like the holiday arrives too early. In 2008, we had the earliest Easter in almost a century when it occurred on March 23, its earliest arrival since 1913. Next year, we’ll celebrate Easter much later, on April 16. We celebrate other holidays that change dates each year, like Thanksgiving, but at least Thanksgiving always occurs on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of the actual date. Easter, on the other hand, seems to jump from day to day in an almost random pattern, falling anywhere from March 22 to April 25. But why does the date of Easter vary so widely from year to year anyway?

Here’s why. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified and resurrected around the time of the Jewish Passover. So, early Christians decided to celebrate Easter each year at that same time. There wasn’t really any agreement, though, on exactly which day the holiday should be observed. Some celebrated on the first day of Passover and others celebrated on the Sunday following the first day of Passover. It wasn’t until 326 CE that the date of Easter was standardized. Or, more accurately, the formula to determine the date of Easter each year was standardized. A group of bishops known as the Council of Nicaea mandated that Easter would thereafter always fall on the first Sunday after the first full Moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. If the full Moon happened to occur on a Sunday, Easter would be celebrated the following Sunday. Christians have been using this date determination method ever since, with the only adjustment being a change in the calendar itself when the Julian calendar gave way to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. For example, if we were still using the Julian calendar, the date of Easter this year would be April 18 instead of March 27. In fact, Eastern Christians still use the Julian calendar, so they celebrate Easter this year on May 1, which is April 18 on the Julian calendar converted to the Gregorian calendar.

So, that’s how the date of Easter is determined and why it can vary so widely from year to year. It all depends on how early or how late a full Moon occurs after the vernal equinox. Now that we’ve got that settled, what does all of this have to do with eclipses and why can’t a solar eclipse ever occur on Easter?

It’s simple, really. A solar eclipse can only occur during a new Moon, the phase that occurs when the Moon is positioned directly between the Earth and the Sun. Since Easter can never occur any earlier than one day after a full Moon nor any later than seven days after a full Moon, it’s impossible for the date of Easter to coincide with a new Moon, which is always separated from a full Moon by about two weeks. And if a new Moon can never occur on Easter, than a solar eclipse can never occur on Easter either.

Incidentally, the fact that a solar eclipse can never occur during a full Moon would also seem to refute the claim by some that an eclipse caused the darkening of the sky that the Bible describes as taking place during the crucifixion of Jesus. The first day of Passover always occurs on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar with the months based on lunar cycles, and the middle of each month corresponds to the appearance of a full Moon. If Jesus was in fact crucified around the time of Passover, the Moon would have been full or nearly full and a new Moon would still have been many days away.

Happy Easter!

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