Planning a Solar Eclipse Expedition

There will be a total eclipse of the Sun on August, 21, 2017 beginning in Oregon with the Moon’s shadow racing across a thin swath of the United States and ending in South Carolina.  The path of totality will not cross Maryland, so an expedition is required to go see it. I have a telescope, a camera, a Jeep, and a sense of adventure. Why wouldn’t I mount an expedition to see one of the most awe-inspiring astronomical events that humans have ever witnessed? Please check back to this post as I periodically update with specifics as my planning exercise progresses.

March 1, 2015: I begin planning with a few parameters in mind: 1) view the eclipse at the point of the longest period of totality, 2) temper that with finding a point where the weather most likely to be clear, and 3) find a jumping off point where I can quickly shift east or west to avoid cloudy skies.  Of course, driving to Oregon is out of the question, so perhaps any point from say Missouri to South Carolina might be a reasonable target.

March 5, 2015: It is a snowy day in Maryland, which somehow seems an appropriate time to begin working in earnest on an expedition plan for a solar eclipse that will occur on a hot August afternoon almost two and a half years hence. I discovered a great information source: www.eclipse2017.org, and I recommend this Web site for anyone wanting to learn more about this eclipse, or stay current or related developments. Among the things that I learned that makes an expedition an imperative is that my location in Maryland will experience about 85% totality. This will never do!

The the ideal place to view the eclipse is at the longest point of totality (2m44s), which will be in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Coincidentally, the path of totality within a five-hour drive east or west of this point is in a zone that historically experiences 30% to 40% cloud cover in mid-August. This is much better odds than I can ever get in Maryland.

The initial plan that I have formulated is arrive in Louisville, KY the afternoon before the eclipse. This is a 9-hour/600 mile drive from Maryland, and Shawnee can be reached in another three hours the next morning. Also from Louisville, there are good routes for moving east or west along the path of totality to reach alternate viewing cites if Shawnee is predicted to be clouded over.

March 7, 2015: Looking at east-west options that are reasonably accessible from Louisville, I have selected St Louis, Missouri (4 hours, 250 miles) to the west, and Franklin, Tennessee (5 hours, 380 miles ) to the east the boundaries for selecting alternative viewing sites. I am fairly happy, at least for the moment, to have framed a coincidence of maximum totality, good weather, and accessibility from where I live. Before examining specific viewing sites, I will next work on a viewing plan that can be modified to account for any location that I may elect for viewing the eclipse.

 February 24, 2016: It has been almost a year since I added planning details, but that doesn’t mean that I have not given a considerable amount of thought to the matter. As I add this entry, it is a cold, blustery, and snowy winter’s day in Saint Louis, just over a two-hour drive to the point of the eclipse’s longest duration, just south of Carbondale, IL. I have formulated Eclipse Logistics Plans A and B. Plan A is a drive straight to Carbondale on the day before the eclipse if Carbondale’s weather is promising. I would either view the eclipse from the Southern Illinois University (SIU) campus where the duration is only four seconds less than the eclipse duration at the longest duration point, or drive the six to eight miles required to get exactly on the eclipse center line. Plan B, if Carbondale’s weather outlook is not so promising is to drive to Louisville, KY the day before the eclipse and bed down there. This would require that I wake up at zero-dark-thirty the next morning, assess the best weather prospects either east or west of Carbondale, and drive there leaving sufficient time to set up before the eclipse begins. In the next installment, I will capture my thinking on what equipment to take and how to observe and/or photograph the event.

 

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