As far as I'm concerned a total solar eclipse is a must see phenomena. Finding the right words to express the entire experience is pretty much impossible. I know because I've actually seen one. Back in February of 1979 while I was in college in Madison, Wisconsin my little brother Jim and myself drove up to Winnipeg Canada in my Dad's old gas guzzling 1975 Pontiac Grand Prix. It was an absolutely stunning experience!
Total eclipses of the sun occur when the moon briefly covers the face of the sun in its monthly orbit around Earth. They occur about twice a year on average when the moon gets exactly in a line between the Sun and a very narrow swath on Earth. Since both celestial disks of the sun and the moon are about same size in the sky this is a spectacular but rare show. On average any one spot of the Earth experiences one every three or four centuries. The last time we saw of total solar eclipse in Minneapolis/St Paul was in 1954. I was born two years too late for that one so I sure as heck didn't want to miss the Winnipeg eclipse 25 years later.
The February 26th, 1979 total eclipse stretched from Hudson Bay through Winnipeg and then arched down to Oregon and Washington. That was the last time we've had a total solar eclipse in any part of the USA.
The drought is over! On Monday, August 21st, 2017 around 10am to 3pm depending on location, we'll have a total solar eclipse from coast to coast across the country. Totality will stretch in a band diagonally across the 48 states from the Oregon to South Carolina. The band though will be very narrow, less than a hundred miles in diameter. Either side of that band most of the rest of the country will see a partial eclipse. The closer you are to totality band the more the sun's disk will be covered up by the moon. In Minneapolis St. Paul more than 80% of the sun's disked will be covered by the moon around 1:06pm on August 21st.
Without a doubt partial eclipses pale tremendously in comparison to majesty of a total solar eclipse. Travel to totality if you can. It so worth it. Since the band of totality runs nearly across the middle of the country it's not like you have to "fly your Lear jet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun" like in the old Carley Simon early 70's hit "You're so Vain".
Within the center of the totality band the length of totality varies from just under two minutes to just over two and half minutes. The maximum duration of totality will be two minutes and 40 seconds around Carbondale Illinois near the Missouri boarder but honestly anywhere along the middle of the totality band it'll be only be seconds shy of that.
I think what's more important is where your best chance of clear skies is. While the area around Southern Illinois and Northeast Missouri will have the longest durations of totality there's on average a better chance of cloud cover. There's no guarantees but I think your best bet for clear skies is in Nebraska or even northwestern Missouri. Another really good area is eastern Oregon.
My best advice is not commit yourself to any specific location. Keep a really close eye on the forecasts along the totality band. One of the websites to keep up with cloud cover is Clear Sky Clock from the Canadian Meteorological Service at www.cleardarksky.com. My plan is to rent a small motor home and target Nebraska but be prepared to move to another locale on short notice.
When the event gets a little closer I'll have specific suggestions for photographing viewing through a telescope but I can tell you from experience that it's most rewarding to witness it just with your God given eyes. Optical aid and cameras are great but I believe you need to take in the whole scene both in the sky and the land. Don't waste it with your eye glued to a lens. There's going to be so many, many photos being taken anyway. You may choose to view in a large group but personally I prefer to be with family and few good friends. I don't want to experience this very special happening in a carnival atmosphere with loud music and shouting. That's just me though.
During the partial eclipse before totality you'll need special eclipse glasses to safely watch the moon creep across the sun's face. You never want to stare at the partially eclipsed sun without them. You can really damage your eyes, or worse! You'll find them for sale all across the internet when you Google in "solar eclipse glasses". I've seen them for sale as low as about two dollars. I would get several pairs as soon as you can because I know they'll be a lot harder to get as we get close to August 21st.
Make sure though don't spend the entire time staring at the sun through your eclipse glasses. Take off the glasses and take in the entire scene all around you. Watch the diminishing daylight and changing color of the sky. Within a few minutes of totality you can actually see the moon's shadow migrating across the landscape. There's no way to photograph that. You just have to see it!
Once totality sets in it's safe to view binoculars and telescopes. You'll easily see flares and prominences churning and emanating from the sun's violent surface. The sun's corona, the outer atmosphere of closest star will also be clearly visible. Thee most important thing to remember is to set a stopwatch with an alarm and STOP your telescope or binocular viewing at least 30 seconds before totality ends. You never ever want to want to view even a tiny sliver of sun's surface with a telescope or binoculars. You could easily damage your eyes or worse! Safety first! Also remember to take a few seconds here and there to check out the sky during totality. Bright stars and planets pop out and all along the horizon the skies takes on a weird twilight color.
Again I know this eclipse is still a ways off but I wanted to bring it up now so you can make plans to see totality. Don't miss it if you can. You'll thank me for it later!
MAP OF THE TOTALITY BAND ACROSS U.S. 48 STATES...Click