Where will you be on August 21, 2017? On that date a total solar eclipse will be seen across the entire breadth of the continental United States for the first time in nearly a century.
Not surprisingly, "2017" is already on the minds of thousands of amateur astronomers across the U.S. and elsewhere. On that August 21st — a Monday, by the way — they'll be positioned somewhere along a narrow corridor that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic across the United States and, weather permitting, see a total eclipse of the Sun.
It's been a long time coming. The Moon's umbral shadow hasn't passed over U.S. soil since 1991 (Hawaii) nor across any part of the contiguous 48 states since 1979. Moreover, a total solar eclipse hasn't run coast to coast since 1918! For "umbraphiles" used to traveling thousands of miles to get to the path of totality, the chance of seeing one on home turf has already created a lot of buzz.
This particular event will be of modest duration, offering up to 2 minutes 40 seconds of totality. It belongs to the same 18-year-long saros cycle (number 145) that brought a very similar total eclipse to central Europe (mostly cloudy) and southwest Asia (mostly clear) in 1999. But while not especially long, 2017's eclipse will no doubt introduce tens of millions of Americans to the magic and majesty of totality.
As the map here shows, the path will cross parts of 12 states. It makes landfall along coast of north-central Oregon, where it will be mid-morning. Racing eastward at roughly 1 mile every 2 seconds, the lunar umbra cuts through central Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Missouri. The point of "greatest eclipse" is just northwest of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The swath of darkness continues across Tennessee and South Carolina, exiting the mainland in mid-afternoon along the Atlantic coast northeast of Charleston.
To see if your town lies along the path — and to get the times and circumstances no matter where you live (everyone in the continental U.S. will enjoy a deep partial eclipse) — check out the interactive eclipse map provided by NASA and the one by eclipse enthusiast Xavier Jubier. Another excellent resource is Dan McGlaun's eclipse2017.org
Of course, all this occurs "weather permitting." Canadian meteorologist Jay Anderson has already taken a look at the chance for clear skies on eclipse day, based on cloud-cover statistics drawn from historical records. Based on his analysis, your best bets would be a relatively remote stretch in north-central Oregon or a big swath through the U.S. heartland running from Nebraska to Tennessee.
So where will you be on August 21, 2017? Post a comment below to let us know. I'm already making plans — but for now my whereabouts on that day are a closely guarded secret! In any case, you can be sure that Sky & Telescope will provide complete coverage of the Great American Eclipse as the date draws nearer.