Next Aug. 21, Kentucky will become the capital of astronomy for a day. The ``Great American Solar Eclipse" will cover a path about 60-70 miles wide from Oregon to South Carolina. In the path of totality, there will be a deep twilight, with the brightest stars and planets briefly becoming visible. The pearly corona (atmosphere) of the sun will faintly glow in a halo around the dark new moon. The temperature will drop and the birds will quiet down. It is the "greatest two minutes in the sky". The last such eclipse in the continental US was in 1979 from Oregon/Washington to North Dakota, and the next two will be in 2024 and 2044. This is the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the US since 1918, and about 220 million people (or 2/3 of the US population) live within 500 miles or a day's drive of the totality zone. As a national event, there are two attempts to videorecord the eclipse, run/funded by UC-Berkeley+Google (Megamovie) and the National Science Foundation (CATE). There are a number of conditions which have to be fulfilled simultaneously for the moon to completely cover up the sun, which is why these events are so rare.
The point of ``maximum totality", with the maximum blockage of sunlight, will be near Hopkinsville. The news media and residents there have hyped this fact, with State Sen. Whitney Westerfield having sponsored a bill to get the State Senate to declare Hopkinsville as the ``best place on Earth" to view the eclipse. Closer to home, Fred Espenak, NASA's ``Mr. Eclipse", gave the annual Bullitt Lecture in Astronomy on campus last Oct. 13 to a crowd of nearly 200 students, faculty, staff and the public. Despite the plugs for Hopkinsville, the eclipse will be almost equally good anywhere along the nearly 3000 miles long path of totality. Kentucky cities like Paducah, Franklin, Madisonville, and places in Tennessee like Clarksville and Nashville, among others, are all good places to view the eclipse. You can see maps of the totality path at www.eclipse2017.org. A number of hotel rooms in the most popular spots have been booked months in advance, though because the path is long, there are probably good chances to find a smaller hotel, friend's house, campsite, couchsurfing place or AirBNB room somewhere along the eclipse line.
You may never again be so close to a total solar eclipse. As a service to the students, faculty, staff of the University and their families, the Society of Physics Students is sponsoring an inexpensive picnic trip to one or more points along the totality path. Although the sun's corona is a rare and wonderful sight, it can damage your eyes to look if even 1% of the sun's disk is visible. To promote safe viewing, SPS will include eclipse glasses in the package. They will also encourage carpools to reduce traffic jams, plus provide some educational and fun programming. See the SPS Facebook page for details: www.facebook.com/UofLSPS/
For alumni and the general public, the Nashville chapter of the UofL Alumni Association is hosting an eclipse picnic. See the University of Louisville Alumni webpage for information and free registration. The Society of Physics Students is hosting an eclipse watch for UofL students, faculty, staff and the public in western Kentucky. See the UofL SPS chapter webpage for details.
The link to the video of the 2016 Bullitt Lecture on the Great American Eclipse is www.astro.uofl.edu/education/bullitt/
If you cannot leave Louisville next Aug. 21, there will be a partial eclipse here. For a couple of minutes, the sun will be 95-97% blocked. Although this sounds like a lot, the sun is so bright that the last few percent of its disk will still provide enough light so that it will appear as bright as a cloudy day. No planets or stars will be visible, though shadows made through leaves will look curved. The planetarium (uofl.edu/planetarium) will be open and staffed by Technical Coordinator Drew Foster, and will sell eclipse glasses. If it is cloudy, there is a capacity to show an eclipse feed from NASA.
Additional information can be found here:
Images are provided by NASA