Want to see the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21? You should have thought about that years ago!
Hotels across the broad swath of America that will get a perfect view of the once-in-a-generation celestial event report that there are simply no rooms at the inns.
“We were sold out a year ago,” said Kaysie Belmont, a supervisor at the Super 8 motel in Carbondale, Ill. — one of the epicenters of the solar eclipse.
“People are going crazy. People from New York, London, China — they started reserving more than a year ago. Who can think that far in advance?” Belmont added.
New Yorkers hoping for a closer option are also out of luck.
“People are calling all the time, but we’re sold out,” said a manager at the Staybridge Suites in Columbia, S.C., about an 11-hour drive from New York. “It’s been sold out for weeks.”
Why the hysteria?
Solar eclipses — when the moon gets between the Earth and the sun, completely blocking out the rays and causing the blackout effect — are fairly common. But it’s extremely rare for the “path of totality” — the 70-mile-wide zone where viewers see the sun fully blocked — to stretch out exclusively across the U.S. and in an almost-perfect cross-country pattern.
For this eclipse, that path of totality makes a long, 3,000-mile southeasterly arc from Lincoln Beach, Ore. to Charleston, S.C.
There hasn’t been such a perfect solar eclipse in this country since 1918 — and the next really good one won’t be until 2045.
Americans outside the path of totality will still get an eyeful (provided they wear protective shades!): New Yorkers, for example, will see about 75% of the sun covered, even though the city is about 800 miles from the closest perfect viewing area.
No wonder NASA has dubbed this “the Great American Eclipse” and scientists say it is the “biggest and best in American history.”
So hit the road, America. Or, more accurately, don’t.
City officials throughout the Goldilocks zone are saying that traffic heading to see the perfect eclipse is going to be black hole. Even the tiny town of Kingstree, S.C. is saying it expects 100,000 drivers flooding its roads.
“That could be a potential nightmare as far as traffic,” said county official Tiffany Cooks. “People puling off to the side of the road just to see — its a big deal in terms of that.”
And officials in Missourisay the state will suffer gas shortages, power surges, infrastructure challenges, and security issues.
And are there enough port-a-potties in the nation to handle the deluge? We’ll see.
Merritt McNeely, director of marketing for the South Carolina State Museum, told Newsweek she’s worried about “a national port-a-potty shortage.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get excited. So let’s nerd out about the Great American Eclipse:
What exactly is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse is a phenomenon resulting from the movement of the moon across the face of the sun. In a total solar eclipse, the sun, moon, and the earth form a direct line. The moon blocks the sun and casts two shadows on a specific area of Earth. When the moon covers the sun only the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. That’s the only safe time to look at an eclipse.
So what will happen on Aug. 21?
The shadow of the moon eclipsing the sun — called the umbra — will first appear in the center of the North Pacific Ocean at 9:48 a.m. Pacific time. It will make landfall on the Oregon coast at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, then travel at 1,620 miles per hour across the country before slipping off the eastern coast of South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time.
It will disappear from the Earth near the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean at 4:02 p.m. Eastern time.
Are people getting into this?
“This will likely be the most watched total solar eclipse in human history,” says Steve Ruskin, author of “America’s First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever” and a visiting researcher from Cambridge University.
Events are as diverse as the territory covered:
There is an “Eclipse Fest” at Chattooga Belle Farm & Distillery in Long Creek, S.C. The farm invites guests to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime event with food trucks, tastings, fruit picking, and a drum circle. Long Creek will see the eclipse for two minutes and 35 seconds at 2:35 p.m Eastern time.
The public library in Bluffton, S.C., is holding an “Eclipse and Salsa”viewing party for those feeling spacey and spicy. It will begin at 2 p.m to prepare for their eclipse at 2:41 p.m.
Girl Scouts from across the U.S. will come together for a weekend camping trip at Roper Mountain in Greenville, S.C. Non-Scouts can view the eclipse at the mountain on that Monday at 2:38 p.m — tents not included.
There’s even an opportunity to enjoy the Great American Eclipse alongside the great American pastime. The Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team will have a rare Monday afternoon game at their stadium very close to the path of totality — and pause the game at 2:40 p.m. when the eclipse appears.
And at the “eclipse crossroads of America” in Carbondale, Ill., Southern Illinois University is selling tickets to fill its football stadium — but to have people look up at the sky, not down at the field. NASA partnered with the university to show live video of the eclipse as it approaches the stadium at 1:20 p.m Central time. Carbondale will enjoy the eclipse’s greatest duration — two minutes and 38 seconds.
The university changed the start of its semester to deal with crowds and the lack of hotel rooms.
Can I just look up at it?
Absolutely not. Proper eye protectionis needed to view the eclipse safely, according to NASA. Viewers should never look directly at the sun without eclipse glasses, block far more light than regular sunglasses, which are ineffective in an eclipse.
Skywatchers outside of the path of totality can also use a pinhole camera, binoculars, or low powered telescopes to view the partial eclipse safely.