Once In A Lifetime (Probably)

How to watch the 'Great American Eclipse,' or at least know what the hell everyone else is talking about

August 14, 2017

What is everyone so worked up about?

The “Great American Eclipse,” a celestial event of singular majesty that will take place Monday, Aug. 21. And it’s a big deal because it’s a total eclipse, which for large swaths of America will blot out the sun, briefly create an artificial night and herald the beginning of the end of days. (Ha! Just kidding! Unless you’re in Kentucky, then you’re probably on board.) An eclipse hasn’t crossed the continental United States since June 8, 1918, so people are getting really, really excited about this.

Why does this make people lose their minds?

The total eclipse has been called the most beautiful thing a person can ever see with human eyes, with the obvious and accepted exception of Salma Hayek. And it has been said that it’ll be the “most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history,” which is a little overboard. It’s not like Ellen taking a picture with actors.

This sounds awesome, I can’t wait to see it!

Oh, you can’t look at it! Or, more accurately, you can look at it, if you want an eclipse to be the last image you ever sense with human eyes. If you have ever been 5, you know that looking at an eclipse will fry your retinas, spontaneously combust your corneas and end in permanent eye damage, and actually none of those are jokes, that will all really happen. Everybody knows you can’t look at an eclipse, but people have to be exhaustingly reminded in the same way that companies have to “DO NOT EAT” on silica gel packets and “DO NOT JUMP” signs on boulders that protrude out over valleys in Yosemite. Here in America, we will eat our silica gel packets when we damn well please.

How long does it take for the sun to damage your eyes?

ONE SECOND. Think of it like this: Do you know how you usually can’t look at the sun? Just pretend Monday is a day. This isn’t rocket science. Well, actually it’s pretty close to rocket science, but still don’t look at the sun. Try not to stick your tongue in surge protectors either.

What will happen during the eclipse?

If you are in the Path of Totality, you will experience a celestial event like none other, something that is written about in the kind of ethereal, revelatory language usually reserved for things like “The Secret” or the really good James Patterson books. The Earth around you will be enveloped in a sudden falling darkness. The sun will be entirely covered by the blackness of the moon, which will make prominent the sun’s majestic (and usually unseen) corona. Birds will cease chirping, but owls will begin hooting. Stars will come out. McDonald’s will stop serving breakfasts. The motion sensor lights over your garage will lose their freaking minds. People will slam on their brakes in the middle of the highway to gawk. It’s gonna be basically the purge for like two and a half minutes, which is actually not a lot of time for a very effective purge.

What if it’s cloudy?

Basically, you’re screwed, but at least you took the day off.

Where can I get special eclipse sunglasses?

Well, like me, you are super-late, so you either have to find them in stores or find an event/library/park/festival that is handing them out for free. To recap: If you are outside the Path of Totality DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, WHY DO WE HAVE TO KEEP TELLING YOU THIS? Or, you know what, look right at the sun, then you wouldn’t be able to watch the news.

Where can I stay during the eclipse?

If you have yet to book accommodations, space remains available in the passenger side of your car, or the little bit of space behind you in the ditch to the left of the Perkin's. Because basically every hotel within 100 miles of the Totality Swath has been booked solid; the city of Hopkinsville, Ky., reports that they began receiving inquiries TEN YEARS AGO, in case you thought your mom planned her vacations early. Traffic, crowds and travel will likely be a waking nightmare, particularly on the highways leading to the small towns hosting festivals, viewing parties and NASA events. Basically, plan like you’re about to drive into 30 Bonnaroos, and if it gets anywhere near totality time, be aware that people will very probably just stop their cars and/or pull over.

Where can I see the eclipse?

Happily, the partial version of the eclipse is viewable anywhere in America, because our exceptionalism is such that we have learned to bend the cosmos to our wishes and geography. But the full eclipse — the crucial Path of Totality — cuts a 70-mile-wide swath across the country that ranges from Lincoln Beach, Ore., to Charleston, S.C. If you are within this path, you will experience up to two-plus minutes of experiencing sheer, pure, unadulterated galactic wonder, until it ends two minutes later and you find yourself stuck for hours in a hideous traffic jam in Kentucky. Happily, you’re almost certainly near a Waffle House.


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