The year was 1979. The Pittsburgh Pirates were on their way to winning the “we are family” baseball championship. The Philadelphia Phillies were only a year away from their first ever World Series championship. And this was the last time that there was a total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous US. In just six months - on Monday, August 21, 2017 - not only will there be a total solar eclipse on US soil for the first time since 1979, but totality will extend from coast-to-coast across a good chunk of the country and it will be the first total eclipse visible only in the US since the country was founded in 1776. The next total solar eclipse on US soil will take place in April 2024.
The last total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States, 38 years ago, only clipped the northwestern United States, mostly rural areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. And on that particular day, Feb. 26, 1979, it was cold and dreary in the Northwest, and most people in the path of totality did not even see the eclipse due to clouds and rain. On August 21, 2017, millions of Americans will witness the moon moving in between the Earth and the sun to create a total solar eclipse. This spectacular phenomenon occurs when the sun, the moon, and the Earth line up in a row, causing the moon to cast a shadow over the planet.
Path of total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017; courtesy NASA, USA Today
The 67-mile wide path of the moon’s umbral shadow will begin in the northern Pacific and cross the U.S. from west to east through parts of the following states: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. It will pass directly over cities such as Salem, Ore., Idaho Falls, Lincoln, Neb., Kansas City, Nashville, and Columbia and Charleston, S.C. Places within a one- or two-hour drive of the eclipse include Portland, Ore., Boise, Cheyenne, Rapid City, Omaha, Neb., Topeka, St. Louis, Louisville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta and Charlotte. At any given location, the total eclipse will last for around 2 or 3 minutes turning day into a dark twilight. Even some stars may become visible during this event which will take about three hours from start to finish. The moon’s penumbral shadow produces a partial eclipse visible from a much larger region covering most of North America. In Philadelphia, about 80% of totality will be reached with a little more than that in DC and a little bit less in the NYC metro region.
This total solar eclipse will provide a rare opportunity to study the sun's wispy outer atmosphere called the corona. (The sun's overwhelming brightness usually drowns out the faint corona.) Temperatures in the corona top 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius), making the region much hotter than the solar surface, which is just 11,000 degrees F (6,000 degrees C) or so. How the corona gets so hot has puzzled scientists for decades and solar scientists aim to gather some useful data during what is now commonly referred to as the "Great American Solar Eclipse".
Make your plans now and hope for good weather.
Meteorologist Paul Dorian