The Path of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

The path of totality for the 2017 eclipse reaches a maximum width of 71 miles and stretches in a southeasterly route from the Pacific northwest to the middle of the Atlantic coastal plain, passing over 14 states including Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina.

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Lowell Observatory astronomers, educators, volunteers, and support staff will host the 2017 Lowell Observatory Solar Experience in Madras, Oregon, which is right in the middle of the path of totality. Lowell chose Madras largely based on past weather patterns; Madras has one of the highest probabilities of good weather on August 21 of any site along the path of totality.

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On average, total solar eclipses occur once every 18 months. But the path from which such events are visible is narrow and varies with each eclipse, so total solar eclipses cross the same geographical area on Earth only about once every 375 years. Arizona is in the middle of a 399-year wait; it hasn’t witnessed a total solar eclipse since Thomas Jefferson was president back in 1806 and will have to wait until 2205 to see the next one (for the 2017 event, the Sun will only be partially eclipsed as seen from Arizona).

The last total solar eclipse to cross into United States territory was in 1991, when a July 11 event was visible from Hawaii. The last one seen from the continental United States occurred on February 26, 1979 but the last one to stretch across the entire country—like the 2017 version—happened on June 8, 1918. The next one visible from the United States will be in 2024, when the path of totality will stretch in a northeasterly direction from Texas through Maine. Not until 2045 will another total solar eclipse cross the continent from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans.

 By Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory Public Information Officer and Historian

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