Astronomer shares pro tip for finding the best place to watch the eclipse

From astronomers to outdoor enthusiasts, astrophysicists to laymen — many are giddy about the coming totality of a solar eclipse.

2017 Solar eclipse path in MissouriBut where to watch it unfold is a question facing eclipse hunters as the Aug. 21 event approaches.

Daniel McIntosh, a distinguished professor of astronomy and physics at UMKC, has diligently plotted out where he’ll observe the eclipse, and he shared a pro tip that he himself is using to pick out a location: find a hill with a view to the west.

“So you can see the western horizon,” he said. “You’ll see the shadow as it comes toward you.”

The moon’s shadow will approach you at about 1000 mph, McIntosh added, which is approximately 50 miles every three minutes. That sort of speed can be shocking, enough to even cause people to flinch as the darkness washes over them.

To find his perfect spot, McIntosh has circled numerous hills from Nebraska to Wyoming as contingency plans should clouds obscure his view.

He recommended using NASA’s interactive map to scroll down to the street level to locate western-facing hills with unobscured views of the horizon. He also recommended seeking a spot in the center of the path of totality, where the eclipse will last the longest — about 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

Observers should also be aware that some maps that show the moon’s shadow during the eclipse are not entirely accurate.

To ensure as many people as possible are in the right place to observe totality, NASA visualizer Ernie Wright of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland created a precise map of the shadow’s path, which was shared on the NASA Sun Science Facebook page on Saturday.

“Sudden darkness of totality is something a lot of people can’t compare to anything else,” Wright said in the video.

As he explained how he created the detailed map, Wright said he accounted for the moon’s jagged surface, full of peaks and valleys. Peaks will block the sun’s rays, while “valleys let the sun in a few seconds longer than we thought.”

The elevation of observers here on earth will also affect the length of totality.

Maps that show the moon’s shadow as a regular oval moving across the earth are not entirely accurate, Wright said. The actual shape is an irregular polygon. Check out the video for more interesting insights into how the moon’s shadow was precisely plotted.

Where and when to view the Aug. 21 eclipse

The eclipse’s 70-mile wide path of totality means there’s no need to wade into a crush of humanity to view historic celestial event.

[Kansas City Star]