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On that date, a total solar eclipse will be visible in some part across the entire length and breadth of the United States of America. Unlike other astronomical phenomena that happen at night when some parks are closed, or are only visible in remote parks far from the glare of city lights, this moment will happen during the middle of the day, visible from every park, and during summer vacation, for great swaths of the country. And it will be unlike anything virtually anyone has seen before.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. A total solar eclipse is when the alignment is so perfect that the Sun completely disappears and eventually, as the last of its light disappears behind the Moon, the sky grows dark, the temperature drops, the planets and brighter stars become visible. At that moment, the corona, the ghostly outer atmosphere of the Sun, stretches outwards from a coal-black Sun. It is the most unnatural event anyone will ever observe in the sky. It is a multi-sensory experience that no photograph can capture and for which no words can do justice. It is the embodiment of the word “awe.”

An eclipse happens somewhere on Earth every year, but by chance it has been 38 years since totality has touched the continental United States. But on August 21, the band of totality, the region where the Moon’s shadow falls and turns mid-day to night, will stretch from the coast of Oregon on the Pacific Ocean to the sands of South Carolina on the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone else in the United States gets to see at least a partial eclipse where the alignment is close but, when viewed through special eclipse glasses, the Sun appears to be missing a bite. This kind of coast-to-coast eclipse hasn’t happened since 1918.

There are more than a half-dozen national parks and monuments along the path of this year’s total eclipse. From the West where the Moon’s shadow first falls they are John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, part of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho (just the northern part, not the visitor center), Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, plus Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and Homestead National Monument of America in Nebraska.

In Missouri, the path of totality cuts the city of St. Louis in half; the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Arch will be just barely outside the northern limit of the path. East of the Mississippi River, the path crosses Manhattan Project National Historical Park and Obed Wild and Scenic River in Tennessee, the southern half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (including Cades Cove, the most popular spot in the park), and travels across the Carolinas, shading Congaree National Park and Fort Sumter National Monument in South Carolina.

In the 90 minutes it takes totality to travel from coast to coast, the Moon’s shadow will darken major parks and small, as well as bustling tourist cities like Jackson, Wyoming, outside Grand Teton, and tiny gateway towns like Mitchell, Oregon, outside the Painted Hills of John Day, population 130 people with exactly one hotel.

But, though the path of the Moon’s shadow stretches for 2,000 miles from west to east, it will be no more than 70 miles wide north or south. To be outside this band is to see none of the phenomena that make totality so unforgettable: 99 percent totality is not 99 percent of the show. Being inside and outside the path is literally the difference between night and day.

The National Park Service realizes this is going to be a major event; lodging in and around the parks started filling up three years ago. Several unscrupulous hotels in Oregon cancelled reservations made years in advance and relisted the rooms for almost $1,000 a night. For extremely rural and sparsely traveled countryside such as eastern Oregon, officials have been told to expect up to 50,000 people to descend upon towns with populations of only a few hundred.

John Day Fossil Beds is expecting more than a quarter of its annual visitation (100,000 people) in one weekend. Rangers and resources from nearby parks outside the path have been designated to help them deal with the crowds.

But for the millions of people who will see totality (12 million people alone live within the band), vastly more will see this eclipse outside that path, and this goes for the parks as well. While the visitors to Yellowstone National Park could all, theoretically, attempt to drive down into Grand Teton to get within the path (this serves as a warning to those rangers working the entry booths between the parks) no one expects Yosemite, Grand Canyon, or Zion national parks to empty out that day. In fact, a survey of Colorado River Rafting Concessionaries reveals there will be more than 500 people rafting the river through multiple parks that day.

Every single visitor to any national park and monument in the United States on August 21—barring cloudy weather—will see at least a partial eclipse. As a result, in our social media age, this will become the most viewed, photographed, shared and tweeted event in human history. And for the first time since 1918, just two years after the founding of the National Park Service, every national park in America will be a part of it.

Tyler Nordgren is an astronomer and artist and author of the just released book, Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets.

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Again, please include/remember  the Craters of the Moon events, which involve NASA.

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