First full solar eclipse to be seen in U.S. in nearly 40 years approaching

An event so anticipated that reservations are booked up more than a year in advance will occur a year from Sunday.

The first full solar eclipse to grace North America in nearly four decades will cut a swath through the U.S. from South Carolina to Oregon on Aug. 21, 2017.

And while that is a year away, hotel rooms are already filling up along the path of the eclipse with people who chase eclipses worldwide, or just curious astronomy tourists hoping to take advantage of their proximity to the event.

Map of path taken by Aug. 21, 2017 solar eclipse. See NASA's interactive solar eclipse map here.

Map of path taken by Aug. 21, 2017 solar eclipse. See NASA’s interactive solar eclipse map here.

“This is the first one to cross the U.S. in 38 years so it’s a pretty big deal,” said Paul Maley, an astronomer and former NASA scientist who organizes astronomy tours worldwide. “You have so many people born since the last one occurred who have never seen a total eclipse of the sun. It’s a really opportunity.”

Full solar eclipses viewable from populated areas are rare. The last full solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979, but it only covered five states, according to NASA. Florida’s closest brush with a full solar eclipse occurred in 1931 when North Florida fell under the path of the moon’s shadow.

West Palm Beach, FL...The moon obscurs a little more than 51 percent of the sun at 5:24 p.m. Friday during a partial eclipse. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

West Palm Beach, FL…The moon obscurs a little more than 51 percent of the sun at 5:24 p.m. Friday during a partial eclipse. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Although the direct path of next year’s eclipse will skip to the north of Florida, several other states will get the full treatment, falling directly under a shadow that will have a width of about 100 miles. Those include Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Maley, who helps organize tours with EclipseTours.com said they opened up their reservations for next year’s eclipse in May and were sold out within two months. He specifically chose the destination of Grand Island, Nebraska, because of its proximity to the central path of the eclipse and because it is close to major roads. The tour may have to go on the road if the weather turns bad directly overhead that day.

Maley recently opened up about 30 more spaces for the discounted price of $699, but that only includes three nights in a hotel room and an eclipse briefing. The full price of $999 includes the hotel, meals, the briefing and bus transportation.

The eclipse is expected to last more than two minutes in the best areas along the path.

“I’ve taken a lot of photos of eclipses and none of them describe the experience of when you are there,” Maley said. “It’s really hard to explain it.”

Maley said while the total eclipse may last less than three minutes, the changes to our atmosphere can last for an hour or more on either side of the event.

“The temperature will drop, and if there are animals around that react to sunrise and sunset, they will go into their nighttime behavior,” said Maley, who expects the entire path of the eclipse to be flooded with people. “It’s going to be a real mess in certain places.”

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