On August 21, a total solar eclipse will span across North America for the first time in 38 years. The path of totality stretches from South Carolina to the Oregon coast, crossing North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. Whether you're within the path of totality on August 21 or just about anywhere in North America, you'll at least be able to see a partial eclipse. To get the best view of this unique cosmic event, you'll want to be in a place with as much sky around you as possible. Here are a few suggestions for where to head for the big event.
Remember: Never look directly at the sun and only use ISO-certified viewing glasses.
A note about traffic conditions
Travel to one of the cities within the 14 states that will experience 100% eclipse coverage will likely be very heavy with traffic. The U.S. Department of Transportation has even issued a fact sheet for states to prepare for the event. It's possible that it will be one of the worst travel days ever recorded. Great American Eclipse published an analysis of predicted travel across the states and possible travel times. It is, of course, just an estimate and could be much better or much, much worse, depending on how many people decide to take a road trip.
If you plan to travel to a destination within the path of totality, it's highly recommended that you try to get there one or two days prior. Get a hotel, stay with friends, search for something on Airbnb, or try for a campsite (I don't recommend risking a walk-up camp site reservation, as someone will probably already have been there for a few days).
A note about cell service
The U.S. Department of Transportation notes that it is likely, in heavily congested areas during the solar eclipse, that cell service will be overloaded. Imagine the Pokémon Go Festival taking place across 14 states at the same time. Don't expect to be able to use your phone for much of anything, including directions to the place you want to be during the eclipse. Print out directions. Tell friends and family you'll be out of a serviceable area for a couple of hours (or possibly half the day). Imagine you're headed out to a remote location where there is no cell service, even if you're actually heading to a major city.
Find a park or recreation area
The best possible way to view the solar eclipse, whether you're in the path or totality or somewhere at the southern or northernmost tips of the U.S., is going to be at a place with a very large, open landscape like a park or field. The National Parks Service has a comprehensive map of the 21 national parks that fall within the path of totality. This is the easiest way to find a great eclipse-viewing spot. The National Parks Service is expecting an unusually large influx of visits between August 15 - 21, so plan ahead for travel.
Even if you're not within the path of totality, the National Parks Service has a great interactive map for finding recreation areas you can head to for the day.
You don't have to use the National Parks services to find an open field or park to visit. There are hundreds, if not thousands of places you can check out near you. Here's a list of apps that offer information on state, national, and private parks and campsites.
Head to an outdoor sports field at a school
You may not be able to drive 300 miles and set up a tent in a beautiful natural park. If you don't have a park nearby, you should at least find a large open field you can hang out in during the solar eclipse. Most K-12 schools will not simply let strangers onto the campus, but parents with kids attending a school are most likely invited to participate in any solar eclipse events planned for the day.
If you don't have kids of your own, you can walk onto most college campuses. Find the sports parks: football, baseball, soccer, field hockey — you get the idea. An open field is a great place to view the eclipse, and sports fields are usually the largest areas within most urban areas.
Sporting fields at schools are nice because there's a pretty good chance there are a lot of bathrooms within walking distance, and so you won't be waiting in a long line or having to ... find your own "bathroom."
Check out a nearby parking lot
Even if you're in a major city with no fields or parks with open landscapes, you can still find areas that are exposed to the sky. The key is to find a big parking lot with lots of room. A mall or sports arena is a great option. You may still find yourself fighting with tall buildings, so try to find a parking lot where nearby buildings are not within the path of the sun's rising or setting pathway (depending on where in the country you're at).
Go to an eclipse party
There are going to be hundreds, maybe even thousands of events taking place across North America. Museums, astronomy labs, schools, and many other local community departments are hosting eclipse viewing parties that range in experience from standing around in an open field to viewing the solar eclipse through a high-powered telescope. You don't have to drive very far to find a place to celebrate the eclipse with others that are just excited to see this unique event. You might even find a few eclipse parties right in your home town. NASA has a list of official solar eclipse viewing events on an interactive map that you can check out to see what's in your area.
You can also check out Facebook events in your area to see if private organizations are holding special events. You never know, that rooftop bar in downtown might be hosting an eclipse party with $5 shots.
Watch it in Virtual Reality
If you're unable to leave your current location, you can still view the total solar eclipse with a little help from virtual reality. Volvo is teaming up with CNN to present a live stream of the total solar eclipse starting at about 12:00 p.m. ET. CNN will post up with a number of 4K VR 360-degree cameras across the country to give us a real-time view of the event without having to deal with all the hassle of traveling. You can watch the live stream from CNN's website, or from the CNN app available on iPhone and Android devices.
Where will you go to view the 2017 total solar eclipse?
Are you planning on taking a trip to the path of totality, or will you hunker down in your home town? Where will you watch daylight turn into twilight on August 21?
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