NASA produced these extremely accurate maps of the 2017 solar eclipse.
On August 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will cut through the entire continental United States. It’s going to be awesome. If you’re in the bull’s eye center of the moon’s shadow known as the totality — the sky will go dark for a few minutes in the middle of the day, stars will appear, birds will become confused and start chirping their nighttime songs. And it’s all because of a cosmic coincidence: From the Earth, both the moon and sun appear to be roughly the same size.
Most of the country will see a partial eclipse, which is also cool. But for the complete show, you need to be in the 60-mile wide path of the totality. Luckily NASA has mapped the path of the totality to an absurd detail.
As NASA data visualizer Ernie Wright explains in the video below, normally people draw the path of an eclipse by assuming that the moon’s shape is perfectly round. But “we know that the moon isn’t smooth,” he says. “Around the edge of the moon we have these sort of jagged peaks and valleys.” The resulting shadow’s shape is not a perfectly smooth oval. “It’s more like a polygon,” he says.
To make an absolutely precise map of the eclipse, you need to account for the geography of the moon, the geography of the Earth, and the angle of the sun’s light hitting the Earth. Put that all together and you get “the most accurate map of the eclipse path to date.”
Your elevation on Earth also matters. “In general, the shadow cone gets slightly larger at higher elevations,” Wright explains in an email. But because shadow is hitting the Earth at an angle “folks near the northern limit for this eclipse could be [shifted] outside the umbra [i.e. shadow], while folks near the southern limit could be [shifted] inside.”
Here’s a simple visualization of that effect.
All of this information was used to create these maps of the total eclipse path as it passes through each state:
Check out an interactive version of the map here. (Click on any spot in the US to get a time for when the eclipse will peak there.) And GreatAmericanEclipse.com points out all the major cities the totality will pass through. But good luck booking hotel rooms.
There’s a total solar eclipse somewhere in the world roughly every 18 months. (There’s even a whole underground of solar eclipse fanatics who chase them around the globe). But for residents of the United States, this year’s eclipse is special. It’s within day trip driving distance of millions of people. The next total solar eclipse over the United States will be in 2024. After that? 2045.
If we’re lucky, and August 21st is a clear day for most, we’ll see something like this — a show that’s captivated people on this planet for as long as we’ve been on Earth:
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