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Experience totality with F.X.

Updated: Mar 22

How to Plan for April 8 - total solar eclipse!

By F. X. Flinn, a Vermonter, lifelong stargazer and space exploration enthusiast.

In August 2017, on a South Carolina beach with my mom, two aunts, two uncles, and another 40 adults who were either siblings, first cousins, spouses, or children of same, I witnessed totality for the first time.


My primary takeaway: I had never seen a photograph or video that captured what I saw during the two and a half minutes the moon totally blocked the sun. In the years since, I still have not found one. Totality is an experience that resists replication, that disappears when mediated through a smartphone or a camera, no matter how fancy.


So, I say to you: get yourself in the path of totality, and don’t bother worrying about capturing it with a device. That’s not what totality is all about.


Totality is about witnessing the blackest of black circles in the sky the size of the moon or sun. You will never see such an absence of light surrounded by the light of the stars, and, most spectacularly, the soft, filamentaceous, wavy, moving streamers of the sun’s corona.

Totality is something you, a human being, cannot know unless you are able to experience it for yourself. Totality is the only time you can look up without having to have your eclipse glasses on. It’s you, the moon totally blocking the sun, the planets, and the stars.


So, let’s come up with a plan for witnessing totality!

The basic limitation is that totality lasts for 30 seconds to 4 ½ minutes, depending on your location. The closer you are to the start of the eclipse off the coast of Mexico, the longer it lasts. The nearer you are to the centerline of the path of totality, the longer it lasts. Anywhere in the USA that you can get into the path of totality you should have 1 to 4 minutes.

These minutes will come between about 2:20 pm and 4:20 pm eastern time.

What you need:

1)     An interactive map of the April 8, 2024 eclipse

2)     An interactive sky app that allows selection of location and time

3)     Decide where you are going to be at Noon on April 7th

4)     Decide how much driving you are willing to do on April 7th-8th

There are two interactive maps I recommend:

Each gives you ways to find a specific location on the map and get information about the duration of the eclipse. Each has map layers that show satellite views of the area so you can evaluate parking and viewing.

Night Sky apps I recommend:


Both allow you to select an exact viewing location and to see the sky at an exact time in the future.


Deciding where you will be on April 7 and how much driving you are willing to do on April 8: given the reality that this is a precisely timed and located event, you need to figure out where you will be and how you will get there on time.


Some will decide that witnessing totality is worth considerable effort (indeed, this is why there are travel companies that specialize in eclipse travel: there’s usually one somewhere on the planet every couple of years). Others might be willing to take the day off and spend a morning driving. Others will look at the map and decide to go to the nearest point under totality, but not try to get to the centerline.


Wherever you are across the range of engagement, decide where you will be on Sunday April 7 at noon and how much driving you are willing to do on the 8th. Why Sunday at noon? By that time the weather forecast 24 hours ahead will be in place and you’ll have a good idea of where skies will be clear. After all, if the sun is behind a cloud, you won’t see the black circle surrounded by the corona or the stars and planets coming out.


Now you use the interactive map to start finding places you might go and get driving directions and time. For example, let’s say that you live in southern Vermont, outside the path of totality, and don’t want to drive more than 2 hours total on the 8th. You might decide to head for the Berlin Mall just off Exit 7 on I-89:


Using the Eclipse 2024 tool

Zooming in a bit closer we find a place in the parking lot:

And clicking on the link reveals we will have about 90 seconds of totality here.

 

If you are willing to drive another hour north, you can get under the centerline in the vicinity of St. Albans:

using the Astropheric tool


Looking at this. I’d say the Champlain Country Club will be a good location –golf won’t have started there quite yet, but a square off to the left caught my eye:

Turns out to be the state prison. With a lot of clear areas and parking, this is potentially a terrific viewing opportunity.


Let’s say that you live on the east coast and your commitment to witnessing totality is toward the extreme, and you have family in Kansas City you’d like to share this with. Looking at the path of totality, make plans to have them drive to St. Louis on Saturday the 6th, to meet you at the airport. From there you’ll all head to wherever you decide to stay on Saturday night, and after checking in, start looking at the weather.


On Sunday, as the forecasts refine, you’ll have an idea if you will be able to drive eastward toward Indianapolis, 4 hours away, or need to plan on driving south toward Little Rock, 5 ½ hours away. In both cases the drive would take place largely in the path of totality, and you can find a good spot – a parking lot, a road through farmland, a park, an airport – anyplace with ample parking and open space.


Worst case scenario? You need to drive south of Dallas or east to Rochester. Head out Sunday and know that there will be plenty of accommodations available along the route, then get up Monday morning and finish the drive.


You have the tools and the commitment. Putting them in service of witnessing totality will be rewarded.


As for me, I’m heading to Indianapolis, where Dallas and Burlington are both 12-hour drives. A bunch of my family will converge on one of our cousins’ homes south of town. We’ve become Totality Chasers (otherwise known as Umbraphiles)!

Watch us enjoying totality on August 18, 2017, on the Isle of Palms The joyous screaming starts at about the 3-minute mark, when totality begins.


F. X. Flinn lives in Quechee, Vermont and has been a lifelong stargazer and space exploration enthusiast. In his retirement, he began doing astrophotography and outreach sessions for kids and their parents. Aside from witnessing totality, he also witnessed Sputnik’s booster orbiting earth, courtesy of his dad bringing him outside one October day in 1957 shortly before his 4th birthday; the launch of Apollo 17 from the edge of the lagoon in front of the countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, the last moon mission and the only time a Saturn V rocket lifted off at night; and the two great comets of the 1990s, Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp.


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Shaft Hiway
Shaft Hiway
29 feb

Astronomy has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. Seeing the 2017 eclipse fulfilled a life-long dream. For that one I flew to KC where we have family but the forecast was for rain. Me, my wife and daughter, and my brother from Texas ended up driving into Nebraska the day before; camping out in a church (yes, on the pews, and yes, we packed camping gear); kept driving west the day of and got out from under the clouds in Ravenna, NE just a couple of hours before the eclipse started.


I'm hoping to see this one in the northeast, but the path of totality goes right over Lakes Erie and Ontario, which will make maneuvering…


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