Total solar eclipse: What you need to know

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SALT LAKE CITY — On Aug. 21, millions of people across the United States will experience something that hasn’t happened for decades: a total solar eclipse. The best places for viewing this once-in-a-generation event are north of Utah, and many people will be traveling north to Idaho and Wyoming to get the best view.

Here are some frequently asked questions that will tell you what you need to know about the eclipse:

  • Q: What is a solar eclipse, and why is everyone so excited about this one? A: On Aug. 21, the moon will move between the sun and the earth, completely blocking the sun from view in various places across the United States. The sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, will be visible during the total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse that was visible in the lower 48 of the United States was in February 1979, according to NASA. The next total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. won’t be until April 2024.
  • Q: Can I see the eclipse in Utah? A: Yes, but only a partial eclipse. Most of northern Utah, including Salt Lake and Utah valleys, will see up to 95 percent coverage of the sun during the eclipse. Southern Utah will see between 80 and 90 percent coverage.
  • Q: Since Utah won’t experience a total solar eclipse, where can I go to see it? A: The 70-mile wide area where the total solar eclipse can be seen — known as the "path of totality" — spans the country from Oregon to South Carolina. Locations in the path of totality closest to Utah include central and eastern Idaho, as well as western and central Wyoming. Areas near the center of the path of totality will see about 2 minutes and 30 seconds of total solar eclipse.
  • Q: What time is the eclipse? A: Utahns will see the greatest eclipse locally from 11:30 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. on Aug. 21. The partial eclipse will begin between 10:10 and 10:20 a.m. across Utah and will last until about 1 p.m.
  • Q: How can I view the eclipse safely? A: Looking directly at the sun is not safe except during the brief phase of totality, when the moon completely blocks the sun’s face. All of Utah is outside the path of totality, so people viewing the eclipse in-state will need eye protection. According to NASA, four companies manufacture certified eclipse glasses and solar viewers that are safe for looking at the sun: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.
  • Q: How can I take pictures during the eclipse? A: NASA recommends purchasing a solar filter to use while photographing the eclipse so it does not destroy your camera. The full moon will be the same diameter as the total solar eclipse, so photographers can practice taking photos during the next full moon on the night of Aug. 7.
  • Q: What will traffic be like on the day of the eclipse? A: With hundreds of thousands of people traveling from other states to view the eclipse, traffic is expected to be heavy, especially in Wyoming and eastern Idaho. Expect major highways between Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to be especially crowded, so allow extra travel time.
  • Q: What if the weather’s bad on eclipse day? A: Eclipse experts recommend having a back-up plan or location for the eclipse. Since the total solar eclipse will be less than three minutes, eclipse viewers will need to move to a different place if clouds are in the way. Study maps in the area where you plan to see the eclipse in case you need to drive quickly to a new location.

3 great places to view the total solar eclipse

Jackson, Wyoming

  • Eclipse time: 11:34 a.m. MDT
  • Driving distance from Salt Lake City: 4.5 hours
The town of Jackson is just south of Grand Teton National Park, which is also within the path of totality. Visitors can see the eclipse from anywhere in Jackson Hole or the southern part of the park, or they can ride the tram to the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Rigby, Idaho

  • Eclipse time: 11:33 a.m. MDT
  • Driving distance from Salt Lake City: 3 hours
Rigby is planning a “Totality Awesome” Eclipse Street Fair on Main Street. The event will feature arts and crafts vendors, as well as food and entertainment.

Sun Valley, Idaho

  • Eclipse time: 11:30 a.m. MDT
  • Driving distance from Salt Lake City: 4.5 hours
The mountain resort towns of Sun Valley and nearby Ketchum will experience about one minute and 13 seconds of totality. The towns are planning an eclipse day event at Sun Valley Festival Meadow that will feature vendors, kids activities and a guest speaker.

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