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The total solar eclipse makes landfall in the U.S. on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

Image: Shutterstock

Observed for hundreds of years by people all over the world, the total solar eclipse has sparked an interesting mythology, ranging from theories about gods and demons eating the sun to the air being poisoned to the Tahitian tale of the sun and moon making love. While many religions and cultures still hold onto these superstitions even to this day, most people are anxiously awaiting their opportunity to see the awe-inspiring astronomical event that will take place on Aug. 21, 2017 for the first time since June 8, 1918. We were lucky to catch up with Seth Jarvis, Executive Director at the Clark Planetarium, and find out everything you'll need to know if you're hoping to watch the solar eclipse. 

Why Is It So Special?

Unlike total lunar eclipses, which happen relatively frequently, last for a few hours, and can be viewed by anyone with a clear view of the Moon and sky, total solar eclipses are much rarer, follow a very narrow path, and last only minutes. In fact, although eclipses appear every year in several parts of the world, it takes roughly 375 years for a total solar eclipse to be visible in a specific location (only 1 in 10,000 people ever one). Because most people are unwilling or unable to travel very far distances, this solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime chance for many. A brief phenomenon, this particular eclipse will travel at 1,600 m.p.h., taking only 91 minutes to rocket across the country, from the coast of Oregon to South Carolina, allowing anyone in its path roughly three minutes of viewing time. 

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The path of the solar eclipse across the United States.

Image: NASA

Where to Watch in Utah

This solar eclipse is making landfall only in the United States and every state, from Hawaii up to Alaska, will be privy to see at least a partial eclipse, which, by all accounts, is still something spectacular. Unfortunately, you won't be able to walk out your front door anywhere in Utah to watch a total eclipse; in St. George, the eclipse will be at about 75 percent while Salt Lake City will experience it at 92 percent. Mark your calendars for Aug. 12, 2045 when the path cuts right through Utah, from Park City down to Arches National Park, and you'll have a view of long lasting total solar eclipse for five and a half minutes. 

The Park City Library has planned a Total Solar Eclipse Picnic for the day if you're looking to watch close to home with the kids and the Clark Planetarium will also have a viewing party. Those who want a more adult experience, would be best served by the 91 Percent Club Eclipse Party at the No Name Saloon where you can celebrate the eclipse with Earth, Moon, and Sun inspired cocktails with spirits from our newest local distiller, Alpine Distilling. 

Where to See the Total Eclipse

Although Utah isn't in the path of totality, Park City is within a 2- to 3-hour drive from total eclipse cities including Rexburg, Idaho Falls, and Casper, Idaho, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Keep in mind, the total U.S. population was only 100 million when the last eclipse occurred and, as it was during the height of World War I, many people were encouraged to keep out of the way, stay quiet, and allow scientists to make their observations. Since then, the population has tripled and an estimated 1.8 to 7.4 million people will be traveling to the path of totality, including Jarvis, creating massive "drivesheds" on interstate highways. "Utahns think of the drive up to Idaho as 2 to 3 hours, but just imagine what happens when the number of people on the road balloons to the combined population of New Mexico and Colorado. This is my third attempt at seeing an eclipse and this time and I'm super prepared," he says. "It's been ages since I booked my lodging and I'll be leaving for Casper on Friday and don't plan on returning till Tuesday [the day after the eclipse]." 

Planning Your Trip

If you haven't already booked a room in one of the cities in the path of totality, you're too late as everything has long since been reserved. "Any rooms left are going for around $1200 per night and the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole is charging $400 for a space to stand on their lawn," says Jarvis. "Not all is lost, however. There are plenty of entrepreneurial minds looking to rent camping places in their fields and backyards. My advice is, make sure you wake up on the 21st where you want to watch the eclipse because otherwise you won't make it."

If you go for it, Jarvis recommends planning on being self sufficient for a few days. That means arrive at your viewing destination with a full tank gas and all the food and water you'll need for at least two days. Restaurants will be packed, gas stations jammed, and so forth. Statistics dictate there will be travelers who run out of gas, have car problems, etc., and you may very well find yourself in stand-still traffic for hours at a time despite the best efforts of highway patrol to deal with traffic and public safety issues arising from this event.  

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The solar eclipse will create "drivesheds" on major highways thanks to the enthusiasm of millions to watch the eclipse.

Protecting Your Eyes

Under no circumstances should you look directly at the sun EVER. And you can also forget about whatever clever hack you may have found on YouTube about looking through a beer bottle or Pringles can. Looking at the sun directly can cause solar retinopathy, i.e. permanent retina damage manifested as black spots in your field of vision. What's worse, you can't tell if this damages is taking place because your retinas have no pain sensors. 

That being said, the solar eclipse is one of the rare occasions you have a reason to look directly into the sun. It's absolutely worth seeing. When doing so it is paramount that you use the proper protection, which is easily to acquire and inexpensive. You can use any of the following:

  • Cardboard eclipse sunglasses ~$2
  • Slightly higher quality plastic eclipse sunglasses ~$20
  • Shade 14 welder glass ~$10 (no other shade or combination will work!)

You can buy eyewear (and a number of camera attachments) at the Clark Planetarium or pick up a free pair at the Salt Lake City-based John A. Moran Eye Center (65 Mario Capecchi Dr). 

Taking Photos of the Eclipse

If you think you're simply going to be able to point you cellphone up and take a snapshot, think again. You're CCD chip will probably fry from the exposure. You can, however, pick up a number an adaptor to attach to the lens. The same goes for anyone using an SLR camera, telescope, or binoculars. 

Since the eclipse only lasts for a brief amount of time, we suggest you do a bit of experimentation. A week ahead of the eclipse, the Clark Planetarium will be hosting an Astronomy Week. This is the perfect opportunity to purchase all your solar eclipse viewing paraphernalia and try it out, ensuring you'll be ready to go when the moment arrives. 

Whatever you decide to do, be prepared for things not to go as you want. "Astronomy is a wonderful teacher of humility and patience," says Jarvis. "We may very well wake up on August 21st to a cloudy day. The universe is under no obligation to give us what we want."

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