Like cogs in a silent cosmic machine, planets and moons and stars circle seamlessly in the darkness, unnoticed, until their paths cross in a way that can’t be ignored.
On Aug. 21, 2017 — six months from Tuesday — the moon will slip between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow that will create the first full solar eclipse over the U.S. in 38 years.
In a swath of the country from South Carolina to Oregon, darkness will reign in the middle of the day for a full two minutes and 40 seconds, beginning at 1:25 p.m. in the Eastern time zone.
“If you can only see one in your lifetime, the one to see is Aug. 21, 2017,” said Sam Storch, a retired astronomy professor and member of the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches. “This is something scheduled by the motions of objects in the heavens. There is nothing humans can do to make it come sooner or later. There is no do-over.”
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 recorded brush with a full solar eclipse occurred in 1931 when North Florida fell under the path of the moon’s shadow.
While Florida will be left out in this year’s eclipse, people from all over the world plan to travel to areas within the 100-mile swath of totality to see the show.
But reservations for hotels and car rentals are filling up fast, and many eclipse tour groups have “no vacancies” stamped on their web- sites.
“You have so many people born since the last one occurred who have never seen a total eclipse of the sun.
It’s really an opportunity,” said Paul Maley, an astronomer and former NASA scientist who organizes astronomy tours worldwide.
Maley is leading a group of about 100 people with EclipseTours.com next year to Grand Island, Neb. — a town he chose because of its proximity to the central path of the eclipse, but also because it is close to major roads in case cloud cover forces the eclipse seekers to change locations quickly.
For $999, Maley’s tour includes three nights in a hotel, meals, an eclipse briefing and a bus to chase the eclipse if necessary.
“This is a pretty big deal,” Maley said. “The whole path will be flooded with people, and it’s going to be a real mess in certain places.”