You’re going to want to get outside on Monday, August 21. That’s when, between 1:06 and 1:23 p.m. depending on your exact location, the first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. in 38 years will be visible in Missouri.
The Show-Me State will be one of the best places in the country to see “The Great American Eclipse,” which will present up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds of eerie, awesome, sun-obliterating beauty. The eclipse path almost parallels Interstate 70, with “totality,” when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, sweeping from St. Joseph in the northwest corner of the state to Cape Girardeau in the southeast.
If you’re in St. Louis and can see south, you’ll be able to witness the eclipse at about 1:18. The northern edge of totality splits the Gateway City, though, so heading south on Interstate 55 to Festus or St. Genevieve will get you closer to the centerline of the eclipse for longer duration.
Angela Speck, Ph.D., professor of astrophysics and director of astronomy at the University of Missouri-Columbia, says the eclipse’s path brings it across Missouri when the sun will be near its highest point, thereby offering excellent views.
“This is the first total solar eclipse on the continental USA since 1979,” said Speck, “and the first one to cross the continent from ocean to ocean since 1918. There was one that was visible from Hawaii and Mexico in 1991. Mexico closed the border with the U.S. to anyone without hotel reservations because they could not handle the volume of people.”
Speck says this is the first total solar eclipse to be visible from only the U.S. since before 1776. For Missouri in particular, this is the first total solar eclipse since 1869, and for some parts — including St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve and Perryville — it is the first since 1442.
“There is a total solar eclipse approximately once a year somewhere on the planet,” said Speck, “but the zones of visibility are often over water or over countries which are considered unsafe for travel by westerners.”
According to Speck, the path of totality runs from the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Atlantic coast of South Carolina. She said approximately 12 million people live on the path of totality, while another 88 million live within 200 miles.
“The total solar eclipse has the potential to be the biggest public space science event since the moon landings,” said Speck.
August weather in Missouri is typically clear, but if the big day dawns cloudy, you can travel to clearer skies. Just don’t be surprised if you encounter traffic. According to Speck, eclipse tourism is a robust industry.
“People travel all over the world to see these things,” she said. “The difference for the eclipse on August 21, 2017, is that there are no borders and nothing to stop anyone in the U.S. traveling to the path of totality.”
It’s a good idea to plan ahead and make travel reservations now. In some areas, tens of thousands of onlookers — they’re called umbraphiles — are expected in the days leading up to the eclipse. Special events are being planned in communities across Missouri, including the Total Eclipse of the Katy Bicycle Ride, a 36-mile pedal from Rocheport to Jefferson City on the Katy Trail, which is located directly in the path of totality. It’s limited to 500 people and has already sold out.
In St. Charles, three Total Eclipse in the Park celebrations are planned at Klondike Park in Augusta, Broemmelsiek Park in Defiance and Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville. These events are limited to 1,000 guests per park, with each guest receiving a pair of commemorative eclipse glasses for safe viewing.
Runners, walkers and cyclists in Columbia are invited to join The Totality Run and The Totality Ride, leaving from Cosmo Park and offering a variety of distances along with swag including commemorative T-shirts and eclipse viewing glasses. The park will host live music, food trucks and fun events throughout the weekend, culminating with a huge eclipse celebration on Monday.
A free public observing event is also being planned for Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, featuring lectures from astronomers, the chance to look at the partial eclipse through a solar-scope and a post-eclipse, astronomy-themed concert by the St. Joseph Symphony Orchestra.
With more than 40 parks situated along the path of totality, Missouri State Parks also will have various events taking place. Check out mostateparks.com/2017Eclipse to learn more and make reservations.
Wherever and however you choose to view the total solar eclipse on August 21, expect strange things. Dusk-to-dawn lights may come on. Shadows may appear to move. Breezes may vanish, and birds may come in to roost. Temperatures may drop 10 to 15 degrees. And you may experience one of the most unforgettable times of your life.
Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during totality, which will happen only within a narrow path and timeframe. The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.
Following are some additional eclipse viewing tips:
- Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter. Always supervise children using solar filters.
- Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After glancing at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
- Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other optical device.
- Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
- If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to glance at the remaining partial phases.
An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun is pinhole projection. For example, cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.
Stephen Foutes is communications coordinator for the Missouri Division of Tourism. Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain magazine.