Eclipse 2017: Where Will You Be When the Sun Goes Away?

In less than a month, on August 21, 2017, the Moon will cast its shadow upon the Earth, a relative pinprick at only 60 miles across. The shadow will begin in the Pacific Ocean off North America, make landfall south of Portland, Oregon, and rake diagonally across the United States. Charging southeastward at about 2000 miles an hour, the path of totality will touch 12 states before racing off into the Atlantic Ocean around Charleston, South Carolina.

Those are the dry facts of the eclipse, the wheres and the whens of an event that hasn’t been visible to a majority of the US population in 47 years. But beyond the science and the natural wonder of the celestial alignment lies a simple question: Where will you be when the sun goes away?

An Eclipse from a Volcano

Bullseye! The center of totality passes right through North Menan Butte in Rexburg, ID.

For me, the answer is simple: I’ll be smack dab in the middle of totality on top of an extinct volcano in eastern Idaho. To see an eclipse is pretty cool; to watch the mechanics of the heavens work above you while standing in a unique geological feature will be far cooler.

It will take me eight hours to drive to Menan Buttes with my family from our home in the Panhandle; Idaho is an enormous state. We’ll be camping on private land outside the southern butte, probably in pretty rustic conditions and without a lot of rough camping experience. OK, none. But I don’t care because I want to see totality, and the 92% totality we’d see if we stayed home just won’t cut it.

While most people will likely have their eyes cast heavenward with their cheap cardboard and plastic eclipse glasses or shade 14 welding lens when the big moment arrives, my eyes will be locked on the ground to the west of our vantage point. Menan Butte stands about 500′ above the flat, featureless Snake River plain, and I intend to watch the moon’s shadow racing across the planet toward us. That’s the draw for me, and I hope I get to see it.

That’s not to say I won’t look skyward once the shadow is upon us, gazing in wide wonder at the incandescent dance of our sun’s atmosphere against the suddenly dark sky. I’ll bask in the unnatural twilight, listen to the gasps and cheers of my fellow watchers, and feel the sudden temperature drop, which should be quite marked in the east Idaho drylands. We’ll have about two minutes of totality before the shadow races east toward the vast majority of the US population, and I plan to enjoy every second of it.

Hackaday Eclipse Meetups

Aside from just watching the eclipse, there’s plenty else to do. Hackaday.io members across the country are hosting Hackaday Eclipse Meetups, where like minded folks can mix and mingle before the eclipse. If you know where you’ll be to watch the eclipse — like an extinct volcano, for instance — and you don’t mind sharing the experience with some of your fellow enthusiasts, be sure to post a meetup on the Eclipse Meetups page. Make your event page and we’ll send you some eclipse glasses with the Jolly Wrencher on the side of them for you and your guests.

Have you started thinking of what you’re going to bring with you to the viewing? There are a lot of eclipse projects, from pinhole cameras to watch the eclipse safely, to the Ham operators who will be taking advantage of localized ionospheric changes to make long-distance contacts. Those of us with telescopes might want to build a low-cost solar filter. Someone will likely be trying to prove General Relativity somewhere along the path of totality, and we’d love to see the rig for that. And there will no doubt be petabytes of photographs and videos taken with everything ranging from smartphones to professional cinematic cameras. We’d love to hear what you’re planning and see your setups. And even if you’ve got something cool that’s not eclipse related, bring it along. It’s always a good time to talk shop for hackers.

Come to the Dark Side

“What’s the big deal?” you say. “The whole country is going to be covered by at least the partial eclipse. It’ll get dark, I’ll take a few minutes off work to go look at it, yadda yadda, back to the grind.” That’s one way of looking at it, and it’s probably going to be the approach that most Americans will take. I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to live within easy reach of the path. But given that totality cuts through so many states, and that once it clears the Mississippi River the path runs through or close to many major metropolitan regions, a fair percentage of the US population could conceivably make it to an optimal viewing location. If you have a way to get there, you should really make an effort.

It’s true that the partial eclipse will cover every square inch of the United States and quite a distance beyond, and it’s also true that the partial eclipse will last much longer than the totality phase. It’ll get dark, and you’ll be able to see the Moon moving across the Sun’s face. But you’ll miss the core sights and sounds of totality, and you will certainly miss out on the camaraderie that comes from sharing a unique experience with millions of people.

Not convinced by my entreaties? I can’t say that I blame you. After all, I’m just an enthusiastic space geek who has never been in totality before. I have nothing to persuade you except for my expectations of what totality will be like. So don’t take it from me; take it from a veteran of 12 total solar eclipses:

For those outside the path, there is no dramatic moment of totality, no dance of Baily’s Beads around the edge of the moon’s disk, no intense darkening of the skies, no stars and planets suddenly revealing themselves against an impossible twilight, no corona flashing into view (the otherworldly beauty of which makes even veteran total eclipse observers gasp in amazement), and no primordial fear which sinks ever so slightly even the modern heart. There is no pitch-blackened disk of the sun, no discernable temperature drop, no impossible nighttime during the day, no scintillating chromosphere or glorious prominences, no 360-degree sunset effect around the horizon, no uncontrollable shouts of emotional overload from the assembled crowd, and no lingering post-eclipse sensation of certainty that you have just done one of the coolest things you’ll ever do in your life.

A partial eclipse is interesting but forgettable, while a total eclipse is a memorable, life-changing event which burns itself into memory – and never fades.

If that doesn’t convince you to make every effort to get into the path of totality, I don’t know what will. I’ll be there, and I hope you’ll be somewhere along that 60-mile wide path across America, too.

[Animated image source: Visualization of the Moon’s shadow path by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein]

61 thoughts on “Eclipse 2017: Where Will You Be When the Sun Goes Away?

    1. i’d not recommend it unless you have something reserved. hotels have been booked for about a year out and cops are planning to do road-side ‘security’ for all the people planning to just pull over outside of Salem.

  1. Good plan!

    If you happen to get any good video of that shadow racing across far below, don’t feel shy of sharing it. It’s only going to be 86% here and there’s no option of traveling to see it. :(

  2. For those unable to travel to be in the path;
    find out if you can see the visible images from GOES satellites, It is awesome to see the dark spot (totality) surrounded by a much larger gray spot (partiality). That is how I watched in it the early ’90’s as one approached the West Coast and Southwest.

        1. Early in the eclipse, view West CONUS/Visible (or even earlier check Alaska/Visible)
          and move to East CONUS/Visible later on.
          (CONUS means CONtinental U.S.)
          or you could view “Composites”
          I will also be clicking InfraRed and Water Vapor at times to see what they show.

  3. I know exactly where I’m going to be. It’s precisely on the path of greatest eclipse. And I’m not telling anyone for fear of filling all the area before I get there.

  4. Don’t be disappointed when you don’t see the shadow racing towards you (at about 2200 MPH). You are going to experience a gradual dimming for about 80 minutes to darkness. Not at all like movie eclipses. There will be plenty of astronomers looking for comets. The first to report one is the winner. Someone in Oregon I would guess.

    Totality is passing through my brother’s house in Wyoming. Should I watch it from the Tetons?

  5. Just going to stay in Michigan, where I could get about 85% totality. Don’t feel like making around 6 hours drive, fighting other people for parking spot and public viewing spot and having to pay over $250 for one night at hotel

  6. Lucky for me I will go out to my favorite swimming spot with my boys and be able to observe this stinking astrological event. For once something really cool is coming to South Carolina.

  7. I’ll be on the far side of the world not interested. Seen one many years before ago. Meh. It’s all hype.
    Sun actually falling from the sky or exploding into a supernova I’ll take time to go and see, but being covered up for a bit? Lame.

  8. I have a buddy that lives on the north butte.
    I thought about watching from his place, but with the crowds they are predicting I will stick to my own back yard in Idaho Falls.
    If you plan on being there bring lots of water and some shade, its been pretty hot lately and its basically desert.
    The locals are predicting so many ppl that they even shut down most of the government facilities for the day.
    Everyone be safe and be aware of the high fire dangers please.

  9. Here where I live 95.896% of the sun should be blocked. I’d have travel N NE to see the total eclipse. Eve though it would be a 90 minute or so drive to the path of a total eclipse I’m in no position to make such a trip for a . >2 minute experiance.

  10. Lucky you and thank you indeed for sharing the plan with us.
    If it wasn’t for the co$t (airline ticket) and the hassle (customs et al.) I will be doing the same.

    Missed my chance with the one over Central Australia some years back.

    Well done!!

  11. I wonder how hard would it be to (legally!!!) convince an airline flight that will in the path (or very close) at the right time to do a small “detour” and fly in the same vector to stay in totality for considerably longer.

    Sadly no supersonic airliners yet, so you can’t keep up with the shadow :(

      1. The ticket cost more then business class on a “slow” jet. Only very few people could actually afford to fly the Concorde, which is why it died.

        p.s. I live in EU.

  12. ” I intend to watch the moon’s shadow racing across the planet”
    This is what I have been wondering, is the shadow distinct enough to see and edge. I think it will get darker and darker but no clear cut shadow. I could be wrong would like to hear from others on this.

    1. I was planning on taking my drone up a hundred feet or so and trying to watch the shadow come across the valley, but maybe that won’t even be worth it.
      We’ll see I guess.

  13. One of the (real) astronomy websites gave the following advice: “photography: don’t bother”. This is a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event. You don’t want to be messing with f-stop or shutter speed when the main event is only two minutes long. Especially when you consider that afterward there will be lots of photographs posted on the web that will be better than you could possibly take…

    Surprisingly for an astronomy web page, the same advice was given for using a telescope. You don’t want to be fiddling with getting the sun into the field of view, focusing, etc. The most spectacular view will be seen with the naked eye anyway.

    Oh, and hopefully you all already know this, but…if you use a telescope or binox, use a filter that fits over the *objective*, NOT one that fits at the eyepiece. An eyepiece filter will be subject to the full focused heat of the sun and can melt, crack, or break without warning. The best that can be expected is a permanent dark spot in your vision.

    1. When I saw one a few years back it was stil very impressive. To go from a dreary day to total black of night in what felt like 30 seconds. From my vantage point on a hill the city lights all came on at once, the birds all stopped singing together and I suddenly realised I was very cold.

      It was so cool!

  14. From Denver, we’re at 90-something percent, and it’s a couple of hours north to get to 100. I’ve been trying to explain to my wife why it’s worth the effort to fight the traffic and skip work, but she ain’t buying it. Le sigh.

    1. Go without her; I am. I will likely be driving up from Colorado Springs early in the morning to somewhere in Wyoming.

      I can even swing by and pick you up, if you want to carpool.

      I want to take some of my kids, but that seems to be the 1st day of school…

      1. “I want to take some of my kids, but that seems to be the 1st day of school…”
        It seems to me this would be a great educational experience.
        Homeschool them for a day.
        B^)

        1. Glad to hear it! When we had a partial eclipse in NC in the 90s, my son’s preschool had a plan to keep the kids inside and close the blinds. He stayed home that day and watched the eclipse with me.

  15. Wherever you watch it, try and be high up and make sure there are some animals and birds around. I was in Cornwall in 1999 for that eclipse and the behaviour of nature is absolutely astonishing. Cows start making their way home. Birds criss-cross the sky. Its really amazing to watch. The sensation touches something really primordial, its a experience more than a sight. Well, it was for me and my missus. YMMV.

    1. +1
      I was in France in 1999, glad to have travelled the 400 kms or so from Holland.
      The effect on nature is truly astonishing and imho the most amazing part of the eclipse.

  16. I want to say THANK YOU sincerely for using opening paragraphs and “Read more…” correctly. Having an opening / teaser paragraph (and NOT posting the whole thing in the main blog list) is a dying art and helps contribute to a pleasant reading experience. Thank you for the good work.

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