Why Should I See the Solar Eclipse on August 21st?
You’ve probably seen a lunar eclipse before, but if you live in North America, chances are you haven’t seen a solar eclipse in your lifetime. The last time a solar eclipse was viewable from coast to coast of the U.S. was in 1918. It’s been 99 years! Picture this: you’re outside enjoying your lunch break when you’re startled by how suddenly dark it has become. Looking up at the sky, you see the sun’s white corona dancing around the moon’s circumference. For two whole minutes, nocturnal animals wake from their slumber, birds flock to their nests. Planets and stars are visible in the middle of the day. This is an event you don’t want to miss on August 21st, 2017.
Will I Be Able to See the Eclipse from Chicago?
In short, yes. You’ll be able to see the eclipse, but you won’t be seeing the totality of the eclipse – aka the moon completely blocking the sun’s surface. You will probably see something like this:
Chicago unfortunately isn’t aligned with the path of totality. The best places in Illinois to see totality of the eclipse are in Southern Illinois.
There, you will not only be able to see the passing of the moon over the sun, but you’ll be able to see the sun’s corona for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds (depending on where you are).
Getting to Southern Illinois from Chicago
You want to get to Southern Illinois, but you’re not sure what the best route is. Well, you have the right mindset because there are going to be tens of thousands of people flocking to see this event. Don’t let that discourage you, there are many places in Southern Illinois to see the eclipse. To compare, the gay pride parade in Chicago brings millions of people every June – that’s one city, and a parade going down Halsted Street. Southern Illinois has many cities, a lot of area. If there are 1,000,000 people going to Southern Illinois, you’re still going to have room to stretch out.
Let’s say you’re going to be staying in Carbondale. How should you get there?
Depending on what rental company you go through, the prices could get up there. If you’re splitting the cost with others, it’s not as bad. I found a rental from Sunday to Tuesday for $120. On a good day, it’s going to take you 5 hours to drive from Chicago to Carbondale. Think of it as a holiday weekend. You may have to add a couple of hours to your drive, because lots of people are taking the same highway you are. Five hours could turn into eight, so plan ahead! Not to mention, hotels have been sold out for months in advance. Try AirBnB, consider camping – there are always options.
If you don’t want to drive, flying roundtrip from Chicago to Marion will cost you around $390. I don’t recommend it.
Taking an Amtrak is your next best option, but then remember, you’ll either have to rent a car there or Uber to your destinations. The cheapest roundtrip from Chicago to Carbondale I found is $83. Not bad!
In my opinion, renting a car will be the best option. You don’t have to worry about a congested train, the price is reasonable, and while you may have to deal with traffic at least you can blast your own music in the comfort of your air conditioned rental.
Best Places in Southern Illinois to View the Eclipse
So you’ve taken off work and you’re on a mission to see this eclipse. GOOD. Where in Southern Illinois should you go?
While many are flocking to Carbondale, there are other cities in Southern Illinois that will get you the same amount of viewing time for the eclipse.
Top 10 Towns in Southern Illinois to view Totality:
1. Simpson – 2m 40s
2. Makanda – 2m 40s
3. Kaskaskia – 2m 40s
4. Gorham – 2m 40s
5. Goreville – 2m 40s
6. Golconda – 2m 40s
7. Giant City SP – 2m 40s
8. Chester – 2m 40s
9. Buncombe – 2m 40s
10. Alto Pass – 2m 39s
As you can see, nine out of ten of these towns will all have a full two minutes and forty seconds of totality. That’s because they’re within the path of totality (NASA has a lot of incredible resources regarding the eclipse, including this totality map of Illinois.)
Everything outside of that specific path has less and less time. For instance, towns that are only a few miles outside of the path may only see one minute and thirty seconds of totality. REMEMBER, you’re probably going to want to both enjoy the eclipse with your eyes as well as take pictures to share on social media. Setting up your DSLR might take preparation, so that time is precious. The time of the total eclipse will depend on where you’re located, but totality begins in Illinois at 1.17pm and exits at 1.25pm.
To see a list of totality durations by city, click here.
Don’t Forget to Protect Your Eyes… AND Your Camera
Being aware of the eclipse’s effects on our eyes (and cameras) is something to keep in mind. Before researching the eclipse, I didn’t realize cameras required a solar lens to properly photograph the eclipse. So basically, here’s the deal.
Moon Begins to Eclipse the Sun
You should never look directly at the sun, just ask Galileo.
Keep in mind that magnifying devices (telescope, camera, etc.) are just as bad… not only can they damage your eyes but even worse, your lens, too! Apparently, binoculars are okay, though.
If you want to take photos of the partial eclipse, you should either invest in a solar lens for your camera or welder’s glass. I went with welder goggles because not only can you wear them as sunglasses to look at the partial eclipse, but you can also remove the lenses to use on your camera.
Moon Eclipses the Sun in Totality
You don’t need to wear sunglasses during this part! The two minutes and forty seconds of totality allow you to look directly at the sun, and take pictures without a lens. In fact, if you’re using the protective sunglasses, you won’t see the sun’s corona. With that said, as soon as you start to see the moon pass out of totality, it’s time to put the sunglasses back on.
Alternative Methods of Viewing the Eclipse
If you don’t care much about photographing the eclipse, you can either spend $3 on the flimsy solar sunglasses (available at Adler Planetarium) or you can create a pinhole projector.
To create a pinhole projector, you simply need two pieces of white paper (construction/cardboard paper is best). With a needle or thumbtack, poke a hole in one piece of paper. With your back to the sun, use the pinhole’d paper to reflect the image onto the other piece of paper.
You can also use a colander to create shadows of dozens of mini-eclipses.
Don’t Miss Your Chance
The reward outweighs the inconvenience. With such a popular event, there are sure to be travel glitches. However, whether you’re driving, flying, or train-ing your way to Southern Illinois, this event is one you’ll surely remember for the rest of your life. There are many events being hosted, with the most popular being Ozzy Osbourne performing in Carterville. You can go hiking in Giant City State Park, or Garden of the Gods, or you could be sitting atop your car in a city center. Regardless of the situation you prefer, this is a moment to humble oneself and absorb how truly incredible our solar system is.
The solar eclipse will be around 1.20pm on August 21st, 2017. The next solar eclipse in the U.S. is in 2024.