The moon will briefly block out the sun on Aug. 21, 2017, plunging parts of the US into an eerie midday darkness — exposing wintertime constellations and causing animals to stir.
The moon’s encroaching shadow across the surface of the sun will be visible to all in the continental US (weather permitting, of course), but only those in what’s called the “zone of totality” will have the opportunity to see the full eclipse if there are clear skies.
The zone of totality is about 70 miles wide and stretches diagonally across the middle of the country from Oregon to South Carolina. Hundreds of towns and cities in 12 states fall fully within the zone. And the closer you are to the zone’s center, the longer the full eclipse will last. While the maximum possible duration of the full eclipse is about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the partial eclipse will last upwards of 2 hours in most places nationwide.
“Anywhere along that path of totality you are going to get on the order of two minutes or so where the view of the sun is blocked out and it gets dark,” Cameron Hummels, an astrophysicist at the Caltech, told BuzzFeed News.
That’s assuming there are no clouds, of course. While the exact weather won’t be known until a few days before the event, scientists at the University of Idaho have put together a map showing the probability of clear skies on eclipse day using the past 16 years of daily satellite imagery. There’s a greater chance of good viewing conditions on the West Coast than on the East Coast, according to the map.
Other important factors when it comes to picking a prime viewing spot are crowds and festivities. In communities across the zone of totality, hotels booked up months and even years in advance, and some people have rented out their homes and spare bedrooms for thousands of dollars a night. Extra cell towers are being installed along the route. Many places are hosting astronomy lectures, viewing parties, and even arts-and-crafts projects to make pinhole cameras for safely watching the full eclipse.
Hummels offered some recommendations for choosing a viewing spot. “You want to be on the line of totality. You want low probability of cloud cover. You want an open space with a pretty good view of the sky that is not obscured by buildings or trees or anything like that. And then you want some ability of being mobile,” in case clouds roll in at the last minute, he said.
If you’re on the hunt for a prime viewing spot, here are BuzzFeed News’ 10 recommendations for sites along the zone of totality.
Click the compass icon in the bottom right to find the nearest eclipse viewing site to your location. (For this feature, you must have geolocation enabled on your device.)
Salem, Oregon, 10:17 a.m. (local time): Capitol celebration
Oregon’s capital could experience a total eclipse for about 1 minute and 55 seconds, and a partial eclipse for about 2.5 hours. It’s the first of five state capitals in the path of the eclipse. In the lead-up to the eclipse, there will be music, tours, and other activities on the grounds of the Oregon State Capitol. There are many designated viewing areas in the city, as well as at vineyards in the region. And if you happen to be watching the local Volcanoes baseball team in the neighboring town of Keizer, fear not: The game will be delayed so the crowd can watch the eclipse.
Madras, Oregon, 10:19 a.m. (local time): Hot air balloons
This central Oregon community could see a total eclipse for 2 minutes, and a partial eclipse for about 2.5 hours. It is hosting the nearly weeklong Oregon Solarfest, a festival full of science demonstrations, music, and camping. Visitors can also go up in tethered hot air balloons in the days before, and on the morning of, the eclipse (but not during it, for safety reasons).
Idaho Falls, Idaho, at 11:33 a.m. (local time): Science blitz
The largest Idaho town in the path of totality, Idaho Falls could experience the full eclipse for about 1 minute and 45 seconds, and a partial one for more than 2.5 hours. Over eclipse weekend, three prominent space experts are speaking at a theater downtown. There will also be a series of talks, demonstrations, and other activities at the Museum of Idaho, which is one of NASA’s designated viewing locations. There’ll also be stock-car racing on the Friday and Saturday before the eclipse.
Jackson, Wyoming, 11:34 a.m. (local time): Mountain views
Near the Idaho border, this town could see a total eclipse for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, and a partial one for nearly 3 hours if there are no clouds. You can watch the eclipse in the city, or in neighboring national parks such as Grand Teton. This is a prime area to camp out for the eclipse, or even hike up a mountain for a closer look.
Casper, Wyoming, 11:42 a.m. (local time): Golf under the eclipse
This eastern Wyoming city could witness a total eclipse for 2 minutes and 26 seconds, and a partial one for nearly 3 hours. It is celebrating with a multiday festival full of live music, food, and drink, in addition to hosting an annual astronomical convention, Astrocon 2017. There will be many spots to watch the event, as well as golfing under the eclipse for those who sign up in time.
Lincoln, Nebraska, 1:02 p.m. (local time): Baseball with a view
Under clear conditions, this Nebraska city could see a total eclipse for 1 minute and 24 seconds, and a partial one for nearly 3 hours. The crowds at Lincoln’s baseball stadium will have the opportunity to watch the eclipse before their home team, the Saltdogs, face off against the Gary SouthShore RailCats from Indiana. There’s also going to be a science and engineering expo fair next to the stadium. Eclipse glasses will be up for grabs at local libraries, and there will be viewing spots set up at parks across the city.
Carbondale, Illinois, 1:20 p.m. (local time): Citizen science
Located near the nation’s longest point of total eclipse duration, this Illinois town could see a full eclipse for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and a partial one for nearly 3 hours. One place to watch will be from Southern Illinois University’s Saluki Stadium, where there will be speakers, a NASA broadcast, and more. The campus is also hosting one of many sites nationwide for the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment, a project in which volunteers can help image the sun’s inner corona — or inner atmosphere — during the eclipse.
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, 1:24 p.m. (local time): “Eclipseville”
This southwestern Kentucky town, which is calling itself “Eclipseville,” could see a full eclipse for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and a partial one for nearly 3 hours. The town (of about 32,000 people) and surrounding region could see upward of 100,000 visitors over eclipse weekend, and is preparing for the crowds by bringing in extra cell towers, opening up public parks for camping, and turning off the lights in designated viewing areas for the main event. Highlights include a three-day festival the weekend before the eclipse in downtown Hopkinsville with music, food, and other activities. And Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and NASA representatives will be at a designated viewing spot north of town for the total eclipse.
Nashville, Tennessee, 1:27 p.m. (local time): Watch zoo animals
Nashville is the largest US city in the path of totality. It could experience the total eclipse for nearly 2 minutes, and the partial one for almost 3 hours, pending clear skies. In celebration, there’s going to be a viewing party attended by Nashville Mayor Megan Barry at the city’s baseball stadium, along with a giveaway of eclipse glasses, hands-on science activities, and more. That’s in addition to the nearly two dozen other designated viewing posts across the city, including the Nashville Zoo, where officials are asking guests to observe and record if any zoo animals act differently during the eclipse. The Music City is even featuring a playlist for the event.
Columbia, South Carolina, 2:41 p.m. (local time): Blackout beer
This central South Carolina town is billing itself as “the total solar eclipse capital of the East Coast.” Located in the middle of the zone of totality, it could experience the total eclipse for nearly 2.5 minutes, and a partial eclipse for almost 3 hours if the weather cooperates. Some of the city’s eclipse-focused festivities include a special guest appearance by Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke at the South Carolina State Museum, six eclipse-inspired plays, and the special release of the “Carolina Blackout” beer by a local brewing company.