On Aug. 21, 2017, the moon will slip between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow that will create the first full solar eclipse over the United States in 38 years.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.— Like cogs in a silent cosmic machine, planets and moons and stars circle seamlessly in the darkness, unnoticed, until their paths cross in a way that can’t be ignored.
On Aug. 21, 2017, the moon will slip between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow that will create the first full solar eclipse over the continental United States in 38 years.
In a swath of country from South Carolina to Oregon, darkness will reign in the middle of the day for a full two minutes and 40 seconds, beginning at 10:15 a.m. PDT on the Oregon coast.
“If you can only see one in your lifetime, the one to see is Aug. 21, 2017,” said Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches. “This is something scheduled by the motions of objects in the heavens. There is nothing humans can do to make it come sooner or later. There is no do-over.”
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This eclipse will cross the entire length of the country on a 90-mile-wide path, known as the Path of Totality, beginning near Depoe Bay, Ore., and ending near Charleston, S.C., according to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
Full solar eclipses viewable from populated areas are rare. The last full solar eclipse in the continental United States was in 1979, but it covered only five states, according to NASA.
According to OMSI, cities that are closest to the center will have the best viewing opportunities, particularly those east of the Cascade Range, where clear skies are most likely.
According to the website timeanddate.com, the sun will be partly eclipsed by the moon in the Seattle area, peaking at 10:20 a.m. It will be not quite a full eclipse, but more complete than the Oct. 23, 2014, partial eclipse.
Of course there’s no guarantee the weather will cooperate.
People from all over the world plan to travel to areas within the 100-mile swath of totality to see the show. But reservations for hotels and car rentals are filling up fast, and many eclipse tour groups have “no vacancies” stamped on their websites.
“You have so many people born since the last one occurred who have never seen a total eclipse of the sun. It’s really an opportunity,” said Paul Maley, an astronomer and former NASA scientist who organizes astronomy tours worldwide.
Maley is leading a group of about 100 people with EclipseTours.com next year to Grand Island, Neb. — a town he chose because of its proximity to the central path of the eclipse, but also because it is close to major roads in case cloud cover forces the eclipse seekers to change locations quickly.
For $999, Maley’s tour includes three nights in a hotel, meals, an eclipse briefing and a bus to chase the eclipse if necessary.
“This is a pretty big deal,” Maley said. “The whole path will be flooded with people, and it’s going to be a real mess in certain places.”
In Carbondale, Ill., where NASA says the absolute maximum totality will occur, the town has established an eclipse plan and an eclipse task force to prepare the city of 26,000 for an onslaught of eclipse-crazy tourists.
Town concerns range from whether there will be enough bandwidth to accommodate mobile devices to whether there will be enough lodging. The town has 513 hotel rooms and two bed-and-breakfasts, according to the “first phase” of the eclipse plan.
And lucky Carbondale, it is also in the path of the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse.
Alex Young, associate director of the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, plans to be in Carbondale for the eclipse, which will be his first.
“Total solar eclipses are not rare. They happen all over the world, but they are rare in populated areas,” Young said. “That’s what makes this one so exciting. Having one from Oregon to South Carolina is phenomenal.”
Everyone in North America will see some kind of eclipse.
In the direct path of the eclipse, it will be as if night falls — mosquitoes may begin to nibble thinking it is dusk, temperatures will dip, animals will settle, stars will shine. And the corona of the sun will appear as a ring of fire around the moon.
“I’ve taken a lot of photos and videos, and none of them describe the experience,” Maley said.