The 2017 Solar Eclipse: Why It's Important and Where to See It Best

On Aug. 21, 2017, parts of the U.S. will see the first solar eclipse in close to four decades.

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, there will be a celestial event unlike any the continental U.S. has seen in nearly 40 years. The moon will overtake the sun and create a night in the middle of a Monday afternoon: a total solar eclipse. The eclipse's path of totality will follow a 73-mile swath from Oregon to the South Carolina coast.

According to Dar­lene Smalley, the planetarium program director at USC Aiken in South Carolina, the last time a total solar eclipse was visible in the mainland U.S. was 1979 and it will be almost another decade for the next to cross the country.

“It’s not a common occurrence,” she said. “(This is) a prime opportunity for South Ca­ro­­lin­ians to see a total solar eclipse.”

Being in the path is literally the difference between night and day. Inside the path, the stars will come out, the air will cool, the animals will react and the sun will put on a stunning display. Outside of the path, where the sun is even 99.9 percent obscured, this will not happen. The entire country will see the eclipse, but it's different inside the path of totality. And across the country, plans are already being made to get the prime viewing spots.

"Eclipse watchers started making reservations more than two years ago and most of our lodging properties have been 100 percent full for quite some time," said Kate Foster, spokesperson, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Chamber of Commerce.

These cities are squarely in the path and are planning some pretty cool eclipse events. We've listed the time totality will start and how long it will last. The entire eclipse event, from beginning phase to ending phase from one coast to the other, will last a couple of hours. Once you've found your viewing spot, make a weekend of it and check out other attractions in the area.

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Salem, Oregon

Time: 10:17 am PST; Duration: 1 minute, 54 seconds

After the first shadow touches land just north of Newport, Oregon, at 10:15 am (PST), it darts eastward where it will engulf the capital city of Salem close to two minutes later. Travelers are already ahead of the game to be among the first to experience the eclipse.

“I would say that about half to three-fourths of our hotels are sold out,” said Kara Kuh, Travel Salem public relations manager. “There is still some availability as of right now, but I would highly encourage anyone planning to travel to our area for the eclipse to book lodging asap.”

Plans are in the offing to make the viewing into a weekend spectacle with festivals beginning the Friday before. The nearby Willamette Valley Vineyards has blocked off one of its vineyards for a full Monday of festivities, including wine tastings and live music in addition to providing a preferred spot.

fishing in the North Platte

Casper, Wyoming

Time: 11:42 am MDT,  Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Already closer to the heavens than some at 5,000 feet, Casper will offer a direct path to the upcoming celestial event. Enjoy all that Casper has to offer with a full slate of events the week before the eclipse.  

For outdoor enjoyment, head to Casper Mountain, which offers multiple options for adventuring, providing miles of trails to hike or bike while taking in scenic waterfalls. For fishing, head to the North Platte River where rainbow and brown trout await.

While you're there, make plans to attend AstroCon. The Astronomica League will hold its annual national convention on the Wednesday through Saturday prior to the eclipse in Casper.

Nebraska's Sandhills

Tryon, Nebraska

Time: 12:53 pm CDT; Duration: 2 minutes, 33 seconds

The vast dark sky over the Sandhills of Nebraska is already ideal for stargazing and allows for viewing the whole eclipse process without impediment.  Look to nearby North Platte for lodging options. 

“With wide-open plains, you can experience the whole eclipse, not just the totality," said Muriel Clark, assistant director of the North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau.

Experience Nebraska like a local: In Tryon, go on prairie tours and trail rides, view a cutting horse show or have Coffee With a Rancher, where a panel of local ranchers answer questions. 

St. Joseph, Missouri

Time: When: 1:06 pm CDT; Duration: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

The centerline path of the eclipse will pass very near the southern end of Rosecrans Memorial Airport. A public viewing event will be held at the airport, which has also set aside a portion of the airfield for camping.

St. Joseph offers plenty of history to explore. The town was the final homestead of Jesse James, who was killed in his home for the bounty on his head, and boasts a museum honoring him. Other museums honor the Pony Express, the Civil War and a lunatic asylum.

Carbondale, Illinois

Time: 1:21 pm CDT, Duration: 2 minutes, 37 seconds

An Eclipse Day is planned for Saluki Stadium at Southern Illinois University, in addition to an Astronomy, Science and Technology Expo and an Arts and Craft Fair surrounding outdoor viewing areas. In nearby Carterville, a four-day music festival called Moonstock 2017 will be presented by Walker’s Bluff Vineyard, which has also produced a special moscato wine commemorating the event.

Carbondale has the unique distinction of being squarely at the intersection of not one, but two solar eclipses. The next total solar eclipse to cut through North America will be April 8, 2024. It will make its way across Mexico north through the United States to New England, Canada, and Newfoundland, again passing through Carbondale. While you’re there, enjoy the beaches of Cedar Lake or hiking in Shawnee National Forest. There are plenty of restaurants, watering holes and family activities in Carbondale. For those seeking big-city entertainment, St. Louis is only two hours away.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky

Time: 1:24 pm CDT; Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Hopkinsville is the point of greatest eclipse in addition to having the greatest duration at two minutes, 40 seconds. The city has wide open spaces to accommodate the influx of gazers, which is expected to be a boon for the community.

eclipse corona

“We anticipate 25,000 to 50,000 people coming to the region and Hopkinsville,” said Brooke Jung, Solar Eclipse marketing and event consultant. “It’s a huge economic impact, guesstimating in the millions.” 

There will be festivals starting on the Friday prior, leading up to the conclusive moment on Monday. Gazers can also take a tour of the Casey Jones Distillery or check out a fully built western town at Copper Canyon Ranch.

Nashville, Tennessee

Time: 1:27 pm CDT, Duration: 1 minute 55 seconds

In case you needed another reason to visit Nashville, it is the largest city in the path of totality. Eclipse-themed events include a trip to the Nashville Zoo, where guests are asked to observe and record the animals’ behavior during the eclipse. 

Music City offers so many things to do when not watching an eclipse. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, take a walk through The Parthenon, tour country queen Barbara Mandrell’s former mansion and, of course, catch a live show at any one of the town’s famed music venues.

Clingmans Dome, North Carolina

Bryson City, North Carolina

Time: 2:35 pm EST,  Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Bryson City, Swain County and the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina make for some prime eclipse viewing, especially Clingmans Dome and the western half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which are directly in the path.  There are limitless chances for outdoor activities around the area, including hiking, zip lining and whitewater rafting or take the time to go for a scenic drive in the mountains. In Bryson City, a town of 13,000 people, explore the local galleries. 
Related Article: {Into the Great Smoky Mountains

Clayton, Georgia

Time:  2:35 pm EST, Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

The path of totality will pass through Georgia in the northeast part of the state. Clayton is close to the center of the path and will experience the state’s longest period of total eclipse, making it a prime viewing location in the state.

Several inns and resorts are already offering special lodging packages for the eclipse weekend, and eclipse events and viewing parties are being scheduled around the area. Not only is it a prime location for viewing the celestial event, the town offers nearby hiking trails, trout fishing and plenty of waterfalls. It is also near Tallulah Gorge and about a 45-minute drive from Helen.

Charleston Battery

Charleston, South Carolina

Time:  2:46 pm EST; Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Charleston is the last major city within the path of totality. The path of the eclipse will end in the Atlantic Ocean.

If you’re in town for the weekend, spend an afternoon at the beach, and then take a look around the Holy City. From Fort Sumter to The Battery to the stunning ancient Angel Oak, check out these things you really must see and do while you’re here. 

Scott Rouch
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