US in bullseye for total solar eclipse on August 21

Fla. (AP) – It will be tough eclipsing this eclipse.

The sun, moon and
Earth will line up perfectly in the cosmos on Aug. 21, turning day into
night for a few wondrous minutes, its path crossing the U.S. from sea to
shining sea for the first time in nearly a century.

Never will a total
solar eclipse be so heavily viewed and studied – or celebrated.

“We’re going to be
looking at this event with unprecedented eyes,” promises Alex Young, a solar
physicist who is coordinating NASA’s education and public outreach.

And the party
planning is at full tilt from Oregon to South Carolina.

Eclipse Fests,
StarFests, SolarFests, SolFests, Darkening of the SunFests, MoonshadowFests,
EclipseCons, Eclipse Encounters and Star Parties are planned along the long
but narrow path of totality, where the moon completely blots out the sun.

breweries, museums, parks, universities, stadiums – just about everybody is
getting into the act.

The Astronomical
League for amateur astronomers is holing up at Casper, Wyoming. Minor league
baseball teams will halt play for “eclipse delays” in Salem, Oregon, and
elsewhere. By a cosmic quirk of the calendar, the Little Green Men Days
Festival will be in full swing in Kelly, Kentucky, as will the American
Atheists’ annual convention in North Charleston, South Carolina.

And where better to
fill up on eclipse T-shirts and safety glasses – and eclipse burgers – than
the Eclipse Kitchen in Makanda, Illinois.

Scientists are also
going gaga.

“This is a really
amazing chance to just open the public’s eyes to wonder,” says Montana State
University’s Angela Des Jardins, a physicist in charge of a NASA eclipse
ballooning project. The student-launched, high-altitude balloons will beam
back live video of the eclipse along the route.

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Satellites and
ground telescopes will also aim at the sun and at the moon’s shadow cutting
a swath some 60 to 70 miles wide across the land. Astronauts will do the
same with cameras aboard the International Space Station. Ships and planes
will also catch the action.

At the same time,
researchers and the just plain curious will watch how animals and plants
react as darkness falls. It will resemble twilight and the temperature will
drop 10 to 15 degrees.

The total eclipse
will last just 1 1/2 hours as the lunar shadow sweeps coast to coast at more
than 1,500 mph beginning about 1:15 p.m. EDT and ending at 2:49 p.m. EDT.
The sun’s crown – the normally invisible outer atmosphere known as the
corona – will shine like a halo.

Sure, full solar
eclipses happen every one, two or three years, when the moon positions
itself smack dab between the sun and Earth. But these take-your-breath-away
eclipses usually occur in the middle of the ocean somewhere, though, or near
the sparsely populated top or bottom of the world. In two years, Chile,
Argentina and the empty South Pacific will share top billing.

The United States
is in the bull’s-eye this time.

It will be the
first total solar eclipse in 99 years to cross coast-to-coast and the first
to pass through any part of the Lower 48 states in 38 years.

NASA’s meteor guru,
Bill Cooke, was in Washington state for that one in 1979. This time, he’s
headed to his sister’s farm in eastern Tennessee.

“It is the most
weird, creepy, awe-inspiring astronomical event you will experience,” Cooke

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No other country
but the U.S. will be privy to the path of totality. Originating in the wide
open North Pacific and ending in the Atlantic well short of Africa, the path
of totality will cover 8,600 miles from end to end.

In all, 14 states
(two of them barely) and 21 National Park locations and seven national
historic trails will be in the path.

Darkness will last
just under two minutes in Oregon, gradually expanding to a maximum two
minutes and 44 seconds in Shawnee National Forest in southernmost Illinois,
almost into Kentucky, then dwindling to 2 1/2 minutes in South Carolina.
Staring at the sun with unprotected eyes is always dangerous, except during
the few minutes of totality. But eye protection is needed during the partial
eclipse before and after.

With an estimated
200 million people living within a day’s drive of the path, huge crowds are
expected. Highway officials already are cautioning travelers to be patient
and, yes, avoid eclipses in judgment.

The view from the
sidelines won’t be too shabby, either. A partial eclipse will extend up
through Canada and down through Central America and the top of South
America. Minneapolis will see 86 percent of the sun covered, Miami sees 82
percent, Montreal gets 66 percent, while Mexico City sees 38 percent.

But who wants to
settle for not quite when you can experience the whole eclipsed enchilada?

Not Kevin Van Horn,
an astronomy buff from suburban Pittsburgh who will make the 8 1/2-hour
drive to Nashville with his wife, Cindy. Nashville is the biggest
metropolitan area along the eclipse’s main drag.

“It would be like
going to the Super Bowl and sitting outside the stadium rather than being
inside and watching it,” says Van Horn, a total solar eclipse newbie.

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By contrast, it
will be the 13th total solar eclipse for Rick Fienberg, spokesman for the
American Astronomical Society. He’s headed to Oregon.

“Going through life
without ever experiencing totality,” Fienberg declares, “is like going
through life without ever falling in love.”

To give everyone a
shot at the cosmic drama, which falls on a Monday, many schools are
canceling classes, while offices plan to take a break or close for the day.
The true beauty of the experience, according to NASA’s Young, comes from
sharing “arguably the most amazing astronomical event that anyone can see”
with millions of others.

Those multitudes
are what terrify Jackie Baker, who owns and runs the Eclipse Kitchen with
her father in a village of 600 that’s tucked into a valley in southernmost
Illinois. The 18-seat cafe – which had its grand opening last Aug. 21 – is
named for this eclipse and the one coming up in 2024.

The Eclipse Kitchen
is in the crosshairs of both.

While it won’t span
coast to coast, the April 8, 2024 <