Dark side of the sun: The U.S. gets a rare to­tal-eclipse cross­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY KATE SIL­VER

Michelle Ni­chols speaks with such pas­sion and po­etry about the moon pass­ing in front of the sun that she can in­spire some­one with even the small­est sliver of as­tro­nom­i­cal knowl­edge (such as this travel writer) to be­gin plan­ning a trip to see the to­tal so­lar eclipse on Aug. 21.

“It looks like a hole in the sky. In the mid­dle of the day, the sky goes dark and you can see stars and plan­ets,” says Ni­chols, who is di­rec­tor of public ob­serv­ing at the Adler Plan­e­tar­ium in Chicago. “I’ve seen one to­tal so­lar eclipse, which was mind-blow­ing.”

The Au­gust eclipse is es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing for peo­ple in the United States be­cause this coun­try will be the only place where some­thing called the “path of to­tal­ity” can be seen. That’s where the moon will com­pletely cover the sun, cast­ing the land in dark­ness. That path

is within a day’s driv­ing dis­tance for mil­lions of peo­ple.

The path of to­tal­ity will pass over 14 states, start­ing in the morn­ing on the coast of Ore­gon, near New­port, at 10:15 a.m. Pa­cific day­light time, with the shadow leav­ing Amer­i­can soil via McClel­lanville, S.C., at 2:49 p.m., Eastern day­light time. In be­tween, it will cross cities in Ore­gon, Idaho, a sliver of Mon­tana, Wy­oming, Ne­braska, Kansas, Mis­souri, a sliver of Iowa, Illi­nois, Ken­tucky, Ten­nessee, Ge­or­gia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Dark­ness will last any­where from a few sec­onds to two min­utes 41 sec­onds, de­pend­ing on the lo­ca­tion.

While eclipses are fairly com­mon — they hap­pen about once a year, some­times more — they’re of­ten in re­mote ar­eas or over wa­ter. This will be the first to­tal so­lar eclipse that has been vis­i­ble in the con­ti­nen­tal United States since 1979, and it’s the first to cross the coun­try coast to coast in 99 years. Through­out the coun­try, uni­ver­si­ties, parks, farms, mu­se­ums, ho­tels and other venues are host­ing fes­ti­vals and view­ing par­ties to cel­e­brate the phe­nom­e­non.

Ni­chols will be trav­el­ing with a team from the Adler Plan­e­tar­ium about 330 miles south of Chicago to Carbondale, Ill., which is lo­cated in the path of to­tal­ity. She ticks off the things she’s ex­cited to see, such as get­ting a glimpse of the wispy outer at­mos­phere of the sun, called the corona.

“This is the jewel of a to­tal so­lar eclipse and the only time on Earth that the corona can be seen with the naked eye,” Ni­chols says. (Out­side of the path of to­tal­ity, a par­tial eclipse will be vis­i­ble, and it will be too bright to see the corona; it will ap­pear more like an or­di­nary day. You can watch the to­tal so­lar eclipse on NASA’s web­site.)

And then there are the an­i­mals. It will be the first to­tal so­lar eclipse Ni­chols has seen from the land — she watched the eclipse of Aug. 11, 1999, from a ship in the Black Sea — and she says that she’s cu­ri­ous what will hap­pen.

“An­i­mals think it’s time to go to bed. So cows might start walk­ing to­ward the barn be­cause they think it’s night­time. And birds might go to roost be­cause they think it’s night­time. And crick­ets might start chirp­ing be­cause they think it’s night­time,” she says.

It’s a re­minder of the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of the uni­verse.

“Some­thing in space is lit­er­ally di­rectly af­fect­ing stuff here on Earth. That’s the most amaz­ing part to me,” Ni­chols says.

Wher­ever you are, Ni­chols cau­tions, never look di­rectly at the sun un­less you are within the path of to­tal­ity and it is com­pletely cov­ered by the moon. She rec­om­mends pur­chas­ing a pair of eclipse glasses made by one of four com­pa­nies: Lunt So­lar Sys­tems, Rain­bow Sym­phony, Amer­i­can Pa­per Op­tics, and Thou­sand Oaks Op­ti­cal.

Some peo­ple have been plan­ning for this eclipse since 1979, Ni­chols says. City of­fi­cials in the path of to­tal­ity an­tic­i­pate heavy traf­fic and many ho­tels across the coun­try have been long sold out. (Camp­ing may not be a bad idea.) Still, she en­cour­ages peo­ple to find a way to see the sky show.

If you can’t make it, cheer up: There’s an­other to­tal so­lar eclipse com­ing on April 8, 2024, which will travel the coun­try from south­west to the north­east.

Ready to chase the eclipse? Here are high­lights of what’s hap­pen­ing around the coun­try within the path of to­tal­ity:

Camp­ing spots are still avail­able (five days, $150-$3,500) in Madras, Ore., for So­lar­fest (ore­gon­so­lar­fest.com), a mu­sic and camp­ing cel­e­bra­tion that’s op­er­at­ing in part­ner­ship with NASA for premier eclipse view­ing.

Open spa­ces and park­land in Wy­oming are ex­pected to draw hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors. In Casper, where el­e­va­tion is 5,000 feet, view­ing par­ties will go on across town, from the fair­grounds and area churches to a dis­tillery — Back­wa­ter Dis­till­ing, which is plan­ning dis­tillery tours, live mu­sic, food and cock­tails (eclipse­casper.com/fes­ti­val). In Jack­son Hole, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Wy­oming Stargazing is host­ing two pre-eclipse moun­tain par­ties that in­clude a chair­lift ride, pre­sen­ta­tions from as­tron­omy ex­perts, min­gling with re­tired as­tro­naut Scott Alt­man, re­fresh­ments and stargazing through tele­scopes (tick­ets $375, wyomingstargaz­ing.org/2017so­lar-eclipse/).

On the day of the eclipse, Spring Creek Ranch is host­ing a party in part­ner­ship with Wy­oming Stargazing, which will in­clude brunch, cock­tails, eclipse glasses, and talks and in­ter­pre­ta­tions by ex­perts ($175 per per­son, springcreekranch.com/ ac­tiv­i­ties/so­lar-eclipse/; con­dos are still avail­able at the prop­erty start­ing at $1,600 a night).

In We­ston, Mo., a farm fes­ti­val is the place to be. Green Dirt Farm and Chef Howard Hanna of the Rieger res­tau­rant in Kansas City will co-host an all-day, adults-only fes­ti­val, clev­erly named “Black Sheep in the Shadow – a To­tal Eclipse of the Farm,” which will in­clude food (roasted pig and lamb), live mu­sic and “freak­show-style” per­for­mances. ($85, greendirt­farm.com/event/ eclipse).

Rooms are still avail­able at the Sher­a­ton Kansas City Ho­tel at Crown Cen­ter, where guests can also view the sky from the event space on the 42nd floor (rates start at $221 per night, sher­a­tonkansasc­i­ty­ho­tel.com). Columbia, Mo., will be cel­e­brat­ing the dark­ness with the “Show Me To­tal­ity” party in­clud­ing food and mu­sic fes­ti­vals, a run, golf tour­na­ment, bi­cy­cle ride, a con­cert and view­ing par­ties at mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions (co­moe­clipse.com).

In Carbondale, Ill., a fes­ti­val art and craft fair, eclipse comic- con and more are in the works and a team from Chicago’s Adler Plan­e­tar­ium will be on­site to an­swer ques­tions and lead events. NASA will be streaming a live feed and the public is in­vited to Saluki Sta­dium, where Matt Kaplan of Plan­e­tary Ra­dio will act as a guide for the main event (tick­ets are $25, carbondale eclipse.com). If you can’t find a room at a lo­cal ho­tel, South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity is of­fer­ing dorm suite rentals — four sin­gle beds for three nights — for $800 (visit hous­ing.siu.edu/eclipse).

Nashville is the largest city that will see to­tal dark­ness, and eclipse chasers can at­tend the Mu­sic City Eclipse Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy Fest at the Ad­ven­ture Sci­ence Cen­ter, the Ital­ian Lights Fest at Bi­cen­ten­nial Capi­tol Mall State Park, and view­ing par­ties around town — in­clud­ing one at the Nashville Zoo at Grass­mere (vis­it­mu­s­ic­c­ity.com/ eclipse). Ho­tels, such as Union Sta­tion Ho­tel Nashville, are of­fer­ing themed pack­ages, in­clud­ing a view­ing party where Moon Pies and As­tro­naut Ice Cream will be served ($471.28 per night) or guests can up­grade to a suite and have ac­cess to a lo­cal as­tronomer and a tele­scope ($821.17 per night).

As its grand finale, the path of to­tal­ity will cross South Carolina. In Columbia, the South Carolina State Mu­seum will host a week­end-long cel­e­bra­tion with eclipse and as­tron­omy ac­tiv­i­ties, talks and ex­pert ap­pear­ances (sc­mu­seum.org/eclipse/), and nearly 100 events are planned in and around Charleston, in­clud­ing a fam­ily-friendly view­ing party at the Bend on the Ash­ley River fea­tur­ing live mu­sic, STEM ac­tiv­i­ties (a ro­bot­ics demon­stra­tion, pa­per air­plane build­ing), as­tronomers on site and a live feed of NASA launch­ing high-al­ti­tude bal­loons in Charleston (thebend­charleston.com). There are also events at mu­se­ums (“Eclipse on a War­ship” at Pa­tri­ots Point Naval & Mar­itime Mu­seum) and yoga gath­er­ings (SunShadow Yoga at Mount Pleas­ant Pier), and ho­tels with re­main­ing rooms are of­fer­ing eclipse pack­ages — visit charleston­cvb.com/ eclipse.

To learn more about the eclipse and events sur­round­ing it, visit NASA’s eclipse page at eclipse2017.nasa.gov.


A map shows the path of to­tal­ity for an up­com­ing to­tal so­lar eclipse, sim­i­lar to the one shown above, that will cross the United States on Aug. 21. In the gray ar­eas, the um­bral shadow cre­ated by the moon ob­scur­ing the sun will bring a pe­riod of dark­ness. Many com­mu­ni­ties are host­ing par­ties and events to cel­e­brate.


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