With the Great American Solar Eclipse on Monday, it's time to make sure your plans are in place! What makes this so special is that the entire continent of North America will get to see some degree of a solar eclipse. The majority will see varying levels of a partial eclipse.
However, if you want to experience the magic that is a total solar eclipse, you're going to need to travel. "There’s no getting around the fact that it is literally night and day. In an eclipse 99 percent coverage versus 100 percent coverage is the difference between night and day,” says Dr. Alex Young, the Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Division at NASA.
The only problem: it's estimated that millions of other people, have the same plan.
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"We know that 14 states are going to be in the direct path of the total eclipse. It represents about 200 million people that are within a day's drive of getting to within the direct path," says Martin Knopp, Associate Administrator for Operations of the Federal Highway Administration.
It is important that you plan ahead and pack wisely. Your time on the highway could be significantly longer than you're expecting. Plan ahead with food, water, and any medicine you might need. Many areas around the path of totality are fairly rural. There may not be a ton of options nearby.
Weather will also dictate whether any of us will be able to see the eclipse, regardless of where you are. Clouds and rain in the way would block the show put on by the moon and the sun. If you're trying to change locations based on the weather last minute, just be mindful that most other people will be doing that too.
Of course, how many people actually plan to make a trip to the path of totality is unknown, but you should expect much more traffic than normal. Knopp stresses that this is not something you should do at the spur of the moment. He recommends trying to travel on days surrounding the event, not on eclipse Monday the 21st.
Totality will come an go quickly along this path. While the eclipse will happen over the span of almost 3 hours, totality, when the sun is completely covered, will last about two minutes. When it's over, that's a lot of people hitting the road all at once.
While I can't recommend driving down the highway, here's at least an idea of how far you'd have to go:
Heading south on I-95 to totality could take you to near Sumter or Shiloh, S.C. Google Maps estimates that at 425 miles and almost 6 1/2 hours from D.C. (in normal traffic).
If you opt to head west instead and take I-81 toward the path of totality, you'll be in the path in Rockford, Tennesee, just beyond Knoxville. Google Maps puts that just shy of 500 miles of driving from D.C. and taking almost 7 1/2 hours.
SAFELY WATCH IT
The only time that the Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during a total eclipse, when the Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. It is never safe to look at a partial or annular eclipse, or the partial phases of a total solar eclipse, without the proper equipment and techniques. Even when 99% of the Sun's surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause permanent retinal damage, especially when viewed through binoculars or other optical aids."
Some of the terms are a little tricky which is why NASA has developed a list online to try and help explain them. We have included the terms, courtesy of NASA, below that we think are important for the public to grasp ahead of the event.
All info courtesy of NASA:
- "Total Eclipse - A solar eclipse in which the Moon's umbral shadow traverses Earth (Moon is close enough to Earth to completely cover the Sun). During the maximum phase of a total eclipse, the Sun's disk is completely blocked Moon. The Sun's faint corona is then safely revealed to the naked eye." What is an eclipse? Find out more here!
- "Partial Eclipse - A solar eclipse in which the Moon's penumbral shadow traverses Earth (umbral and antumbral shadows completely miss Earth). During a partial eclipse, the Moon appears to block part (but not all) of the Sun's disk. From the prospective of an individual observer, a partial eclipse is one in which the observer is within the penumbral shadow but outside the path of the umbral or antumbral shadows." Find out what you'll see in your area here
- "Totality - The maximum phase of a total eclipse during which the Moon's disk completely covers the Sun. Totality is the period between second and third contact during a total eclipse. It can last from a fraction of a second to a maximum of 7 minutes 32 seconds." Path of Totality here
- "Umbra - The umbra is the darkest part of the Moon's shadow. From within the umbra, the Sun is completely blocked by the Moon as in the case of a total eclipse. This contrasts with the penumbra, where the Sun is only partially blocked resulting in a partial eclipse." Diagram of an Umbra vs Penumbra
- "Penumbra - The penumbra is the weak or pale part of the Moon's shadow. From within the penumbra, the Sun is only partially blocked by the Moon as in the case of a partial eclipse. This contrasts with the umbra, where the Sun is completely blocked resulting in a total eclipse." Learn more about the penumbra here
- "First Contact - The instant when the partial phase of an eclipse begins." Here is what first contact will look like through the safety of your eclipse glasses.
- "Second Contact - The instant when the total or annular phase of an eclipse begins." Image of first contact vs. second contact.
- "Third Contact - The instant when the total or annular phase of an eclipse ends."
- "Fourth Contact - The instant when the partial phase of an eclipse ends." See more about the stages of contact here.
- "Central Line - During a central solar eclipse, the central axis of the Moon’s shadow cone traverses Earth's surface. The track produced by the shadow axis is called the central line of the eclipse. The duration of a total or annular eclipse is longest on the central line (neglecting Earth's curvature and effects introduced by the direction of the shadow with respect to the Equator) and drops to 0 as the observer moves to the path limits." Interactive map
- "Eclipse Magnitude - Eclipse magnitude is the fraction of the Sun’s diameter occulted by the Moon. It is strictly a ratio of diameters and should not be confused with eclipse obscuration, which is a measure of the Sun’s surface area occulted by the Moon. Eclipse magnitude may be expressed as either a percentage or a decimal fraction (e.g., 50% or 0.50). By convention, its value is given at the instant of greatest eclipse."
- "Eclipse Obscuration - Eclipse obscuration is the fraction of the Sun’s area occulted by the Moon. It should not be confused with eclipse magnitude, which is the fraction of the Sun’s diameter occulted by the Moon. Eclipse obscuration may be expressed as either a percentage or a decimal fraction (e.g., 50% or 0.50)." More on magnitude vs. obscuration
- "Eye Safety - The only time that the Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during a total eclipse, when the Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. It is never safe to look at a partial or annular eclipse, or the partial phases of a total solar eclipse, without the proper equipment and techniques. Even when 99% of the Sun's surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause permanent retinal damage, especially when viewed through binoculars or other optical aids." View more very important safety tips!