Astronomy: August’s solar eclipse nearly total

Daniel Zantzinger Skywatcher’s Guide

Among the myriad celestial sights these August nights, the new moon’s eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21 is clearly this month’s highlight.

In a nutshell, the moon passes between earth and sun Aug. 21 (a Monday), casting its shadow called the umbra onto the earth’s surface and briefly blocking sunlight. The path of the nation’s first total solar eclipse in 38 years is a 70-mile wide band that stretches 8,600 miles from sunrise near Midway Atoll and the International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to sunset southwest of the Cabo Verde archipelago in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean. For North America, the path of totality, tilted from the northwest to the southeast, is a narrow strip spanning from the westernmost coast of central Oregon to the easternmost coast of central South Carolina.

Most skywatchers, however, don’t live along this path, and as such have two options.

First option is to visit, find a location closest to you and hit the road. Skywatchers can book a room in Casper, Wyo., or pitch a tent in Grand Island KOA Journey campground in Nebraska.

The truly hardcore and well-financed who want to experience the greatest duration of totality need head no further than to the wilds of Giant City State Park, about six miles from Carbondale, Ill. If you want to experience the greatest eclipse, that is, be exactly where the axis of the moon’s shadow slices closest to the earth’s center, trek to the northwestern outskirts of Hopkinsville, Ky.

Before you pack up the RV, though, be forewarned. Totality along thiseclipse path is never longer than 2 minutes 40.2 seconds. The umbra is racing across the earth’s…

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