The American Eclipse of 2017

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2017 Eclipse map

Time to start making your vacation plans. On August 21, 2017 a total eclipse of the sun is going to traverse the entire length of the continental United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Kentucky will have the longest view, with totality as long as three minutes.

And astronomers are already thinking of ways to harness the help of the American people in observing this event. In a paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website, a team of astronomers are proposing organizing something they have dubbed the U.S. Eclipse MegaMovie, whereby they gather together as many images of the totality as possible and assemble them into a single film, showing the evolution of the sun’s corona as it crosses the continent.

The basic idea of the Megamovie is to incorporate as many images as possible, provided by a diverse range of observers using standard photographic techniques, into an overview movie. This would show the dynamics of the corona and associated prominence systems at high resolution for an extended period of time. If 10,000 observers each obtained 100 frames, then we would have a million-frame movie; at standard frame rate this would take 12 hours to show, and would thus be a slow-motion representation of coronal evolution. Each participating observer would be able to point with pride to the exact moment of his or her contribution. Of course, with an uncontrollably heterogeneous database, with images acquired by any number of camera types and formats, a substantial effort would be required even to produce a crude product.

All I can say is that — regardless of this worthwhile effort by astronomers — this eclipse is going to produce one wild party, a media feeding frenzy unmatched in decades. It has all the right ingredients: a single spectacular event whose occurrence can be predicted precisely, taking place in one of the most populated and developed places on the Earth. Moreover, it has been decades since a solar eclipse has crossed the continental United States. I can imagine literally millions of Americans driving north and south to gather along this thin line to see totality.

Start making your plans now!


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