Don’t Feel Cheated if You’re not at the Point of Maximum Eclipse
August 2, 2017
I’ve encountered several people who are bound and determined to see the eclipse from the point where totality is longest. That site, Giant City State Park, sits on 4,055 acres in Jackson and Union counties, Illinois. The park’s area works out to roughly 6½ square miles. The nearest town is Makanda, whose population according to the 2010 U.S. Census, was 561. Makanda lies 7.7 miles due south of Carbondale, a city of nearly 26,000 inhabitants.
Here’s my thing. I’m concerned that vast numbers of people may head to Giant City State Park for the eclipse, and I’m not certain the facility can handle the quantity that will come. First, let me dispel the rumor that the park is 4,055 acres of pristine eclipse-viewing real estate. It isn’t. It’s really beautiful, that’s true, but we’re talking about a heavily wooded area full of hiking trails, waterways, rock formations, and some 50 types of large trees. A lot of that acreage you can’t even get to, and a lot that you can access isn’t great for watching the Sun-Moon dance high in the sky.
Observers with campers wishing to get to the park early may find that all available spaces (there aren’t that many) are booked. For all I know, they’re already booked.
Access in and out of the park comes via Giant City Road, which orients north to south. From the mall in Carbondale (where the Wal-Mart stands just to its north on the corner), you have roughly a 12-mile drive south to the park entrance. I can’t imagine what traffic might be like on this road on eclipse day. Umm, actually, I can imagine it.
Look, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. I just want you and your family, friends, and whoever to have the best possible experience on eclipse day. To help you do that, I have figured out the other locations you can travel to and still enjoy the maximum length of 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality. To use these calculations, all you have to have is a map that shows the location of the center line.
(Giant City State Park offers a picturesque setting from which to view the eclipse. The big question is: “How crowded will it be?” If you choose this location as your observing site, be sure to get there early and pick a spot where trees won’t block your view of the eclipse. // Tripp [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
OK, let’s answer the first question. Where along the center line can you experience the maximum duration? Believe it or not, there’s a lot of places that have the same time of totality - 2 minutes and 40 seconds - as Giant City State Park. Totality lasts 2m39.9s (just one-tenth second less than maximum) at the intersection of the center line and Hwy 185 south of Beaufort, Missouri. At all points along the center line southeast of there, totality lasts 2m40s until you get to the intersection of U.S. Route 79 and the center line just southwest of Allensville, Kentucky, where the length of totality once again "falls" to 2m39.9s. That means the Moon’s shadow will cover every location between Beaufort, Missouri, and Allensville, Kentucky, -- a straight-line distance of 255 miles - for the maximum of 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
Now, in case you can’t get to any point along that line, I went ahead and figured out the two spans along the path where totality lasts just 1 second less than maximum, and also the two parts of the center line’s path where totality lasts 2 seconds less than maximum.
Two stretches along the center line have lengths of totality greater than 2m39s, but less than 2m40s. The more northwesterly stretch lies completely within the Show-Me State. It begins at the intersection of the center line and County Road 603 in Norborne, Missouri, and ends at the intersection of the center line and Hwy 185 south of Beaufort, Missouri. The southeasterly stretch begins at the intersection of U.S. Route 79 and the center line just southwest of Allensville, Kentucky, and ends where the center line intersects County Road 304 just southwest of Ten Mile, Tennessee.
Likewise, northwesterly and southeasterly stretches exist along the center line where the length of totality is greater than 2m38s, but less than 2m39s. The northwestern stretch begins just a bit east of where the center line crosses Raccoon Road in Hiawatha, Kansas, and ends at the intersection of the center line and County Road 603 in Norborne, Missouri. The southeastern stretch begins at the intersection of the center line and County Road 304 just southwest of Ten Mile, Tennessee, and ends just west of where the center line crosses Hale Ridge Road southwest of Pine Mountain, Georgia.
What all this means is that, if you position yourself along the eclipse’s center line, you can experience the maximum duration of totality minus no more than a measly 2 seconds from Hiawatha, Kansas, to Pine Mountain, Georgia, a straight-line distance of nearly 766 miles! To give you some idea of how long this is, if you placed a person (with an approved pair of solar glasses, of course) every 6 feet along this stretch of center line, it would form a queue of more than 674,000 people.
So, don’t worry. If you want to see nearly the maximum duration of totality, there will be a spot you can get to with only a minimum of planning.