On 21 August this year, the USA will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse, a natural phenomenon that occurs when the new moon finds itself between the Sun and Earth, casting a dark shadow over the planet that makes the landscape almost as dark as night.
Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program, you are still in time to apply for ESTA and go and witness this mystifying natural wonder for yourself! You can simply apply for ESTA online and receive your travel authorization by email within 24 hours.
Though the eclipse will be visible from across the country, the actual path of the eclipse, known as the ‘path of totality’, will stretch from the west in Salem, Oregon, and move in a south-easterly direction to Charleston, South Carolina. Areas within the states that span this distance will be the best locations for capturing this awe-inspiring moment (Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina).
To make it more special, this will be the first total solar eclipse in the continental USA for 38 years, and as a result around 500 million people are expected to come out to witness the event (weather permitting, of course). And the last time there was a solar eclipse that went from coast to coast was almost 100 years ago, on 8 June 1918. So, for a little inspiration, here we are going to look at some of the best US spots to witness the occasion first hand…
The first signs of the solar eclipse will be seen from Salem from 9.05 in the morning. The ‘totality’ (i.e. the total darkness) will begin at 10.17am, lasting for one minute and fifty seconds. There will be many viewing events within the city, including a viewing party organized by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The event will take place in the State Fairgrounds, and will include science lectures, astronomy activities and other live entertainment.
If you find yourself in Salem for the eclipse, why not stick around for the State Fair, running from 25 August to 4 September. The fair will welcome a whole host of concerts, competitions and carnival rides, with plenty of activities for the whole family.
In Idaho Falls the eclipse will begin at 10.15am, peaking at 11.33am. There are many events going on in the city, some of them oriented around education and others around entertainment. There will be four ‘designated viewing locations’ (all with public parking and bathrooms, etc.), with plenty of open spaces and an excellent view. These areas are located at Old Butte, Tautphaus Park, Freeman Park and Community Park, and all fall within the ‘path of totality’.
In Casper you will start to see the effects of the eclipse at 10.22am, and totality will begin at 11.42am, lasting for just under two and a half minutes. To celebrate, the city is holding the ‘2017 Wyoming Eclipse Festival’. The event will bring together scientists, photographers and visitors from around the world. This small Wyoming town is over 5,000 feet above sea level and has a high chance of clear skies, making it one of the greatest spots in the country to view the eclipse.
The festival will begin on 16 August and run until the day of the eclipse. It will include wagon train journeys and pony rides, public exhibits, planetarium shows, a 10-kilometer run and a food festival at the mall.
It’s worth noting that, as the skies darken, the temperature also drops during a solar eclipse. In Casper, it will drop down to about -6 degrees Celsius, so don’t forget to bring a coat!
Later on in the day, the eclipse in Lincoln will be seen from 11.37am, reaching totality at 1.02pm. A unique way to witness the eclipse here is to attend the Lincoln Saltdogs baseball game at Haymarket Park. The stadium will provide excellent viewing points as well as a range of talks and presentations. As you might expect, the game itself will have an ‘eclipse delay’ so the fans and sportsmen themselves can stop to appreciate the phenomenon.
Starting at 11.46am and reaching total darkness at 1.13pm, the eclipse in Jefferson will be best seen from the Missouri State Capitol lawn, as well as other open spaces in the city. To celebrate, Jefferson is putting on a three-day event celebrating art and astronomy, and providing visitors with plenty of live entertainment in the build up to the eclipse. There will be a fun run, a NASA traveling exhibit, a Pink Floyd tribute act (presumably because of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’), telescope viewings and live music.
Though Nashville will only partially be in the path of totality, it is still an excellent option for viewing the event, partly because of the huge array of activities that the city offers year round. To mark the occasion, there will be special events put on by Nashville’s Adventure Science Center. The ‘Music City Solar Eclipse Festival’ will explore science and technology, and will feature activities and games, live music, competitions, food trucks and a viewing party to top it all off.
This small town in Rabun County, Georgia, is a beautiful mountain community that offers a lovely alternative location to witness the 2017 solar eclipse. After a weekend of exploring nature, perhaps with a little rafting or kayaking, why not head over to Rabun-Gap-Nacoochee School to get an excellent view of one of the sky’s greatest treats? As well as live music and food, the event will be equipped with screens across the viewing area, with a live feed from NASA; experts will discuss what is happening on a scientific level as the eclipse goes through each US state. Professors will also be there with telescopes, serving as a great opportunity for adults and children to learn a little more about astronomy.
Marking the last spot in the country to view the eclipse, it will begin at 1.17pm and totality will start at 2.46pm. There will be an eclipse viewing party, ‘Hotter than the Sun’, at the MUSC Health Stadium from 11am to 5pm, including live NASA streams, astronomy-based activities, a children’s education zone, local food vendors and ‘water inflatables’! Be sure to bring beach towels and lawn chairs so you can relax in comfort as you enjoy the show.
Regardless of where you go to watch the eclipse, be sure to follow all of the safety precautions needed when looking at the sun. You should purchase a pair of protective solar viewing glasses; normal sunglasses are not good enough, as they will need to meet international standard ISO 12312-2. Without eye protection, looking directly at the sun, even if it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or even blindness.
And as well as proper eye protection, you will also need to apply for your ESTA in advance in order to get into the USA. As a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program member country, you can apply to travel to the country without the need for a visa. The ‘ESTA’ (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) allows you to visit the USA, as a tourist or on business, for periods of up to 90 days at a time, without all the hassle and expense of applying for a US visa.
Once you are ESTA approved, you will be able to visit the USA as many times as you like for a two-year period (always for periods of 90 days or less, and as long as the purpose of your trip adheres to the conditions of the Visa Waiver Program). If your passport expires during this two-year period, then your ESTA will automatically expire as well, given that your travel authorization is directly linked to the specific details of the passport used for your online ESTA application. Once these two years are over, you can apply for ESTA online again just as easily, making it much easier, and far more affordable, alternative to applying for a US visa.
You’re still in time to grab a last-minute flight to the USA to witness the ‘Great American Eclipse’. If you’ve got the time, it may well be worth the effort, as we’ll be waiting a long time for the next eclipse over in Europe (in the UK, for example, the next total solar eclipse will be in 2090…). Apply for your ESTA online (and a pair of protective glasses) and get those bags packed!