A total eclipse has not passed coast to coast through the continental U.S. since 1918. The solar event on August 21, 2017, will pass through 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina, across many heavily populated zones. States along the path of totality are predicting gridlock traffic, and hotels have been sold out for years. Residents in good viewing areas are renting out spare rooms and cots under carports, even roof access atop their own homes.
If you’re lucky enough to be along the path, it’s an uncommon and incredible opportunity to see the interplay of our little corner of the solar system. There will be another in 2024, but why wait?
With several weeks to go, there’s time to prepare. Buy or make a good viewing lens. Even when the eclipse is nearly complete, the little slivers of sunlight are still strong enough to permanently damage eyesight, according to NASA. Regular sunglasses won’t even come close. Some libraries will have free ones available, usually first-come-first-served. Or making a set could be a good activity to build up excitement.
The path of totality will cross the country beginning around 8 a.m. on the coast of Oregon, sweeping east-southeast at between 3,000 and 1,500 mph (the speed changes with the angle of the sun, moon, and Earth). Standing in one place, seeing that shadow rush towards you at nearly four times the speed of sound has been described as one of the most intense feelings imaginable, indescribable to those who haven’t felt it. Be prepared for the rush of chill as the sun is entirely occluded.
For students, there’s a wealth of topics to touch on as you make your way to wherever you choose to view. Total eclipses feature in many pre-written histories as concrete date markers. They allow scientists, and even civilian telescope enthusiasts, to view the subtle shapes and colors of the sun’s corona. Its massive, petal-like shapes are far too dim to be seen when the solar disk is unobstructed. Ask your student if they can figure out why the path of the solar eclipse moves opposite the path of the Sun. (west to east versus east to west).
And remember, you are seeing something awe-inspiring.