It’s still more than a year before a total solar eclipse takes place, but hotels situated in prime viewing spots in the West are already booking up.

The Great American Eclipse, the first total solar eclipse to conquer American skies, will occur Aug. 21 next year – the next one won’t happen until April 2024.

It will be the first since 1979 to be witnessed over the lower 48 states, unlike Alaska’s in 1990 and Hawaii’s in 1991. For the first time since 1918, too, the moon’s shadow will sweep across the nation from one coast to another in a 167-mile coverage at the largest point.

Tourists have started booking hotel rooms across the United States to vie for the best view within the “path of totality,” or the track that the moon’s shadow will travel across the planet. And small-town America is leading the spectacle.

For instance, Giant City State Park, a remote Depression-era park in southern Illinois, will experience the longest duration of the total solar eclipse from start to finish.

“We’ve been getting calls from around the world,” said Giant City Lodge manager Michael Kelly, calling the eclipse the biggest thing since Bill Clinton's presidency and Neil Diamond’s stay.

NASA is mapping a live webcast from Carbondale, Illinois. Areas along the path of totality, too, have made specific plans:

• Wyoming’s biggest hotels and guide services will provide eclipse-based tours throughout the Yellowstone Park area.
• Madras in Oregon claims the best odds for good weather and is planning a festival.
• Carbondale, Illinois, will create city-wide events and eclipse-oriented activities for visitors.
• Nashville, Tennessee, will serve as the biggest city under total eclipse, although Hopkinsville in Kentucky will boast the greatest degree of eclipse anywhere, meaning it will be “total” for a longer time.
• The largest hotel in Casper, Wyoming will host a national astronomy convention dubbed Astrocon2017, which will gather more than 240 amateur astronomy groups in the Astronomical League.
• North Platte, Nebraska on Interstate 80 is getting positioned as a safe, accessible viewing location in the Nebraska Sandhills area.
• St. Louis in Perry County, Missouri, will host the gathering of the sun, moon and Mississippi River.

The eclipse, depending on one’s location (see its interactive map), will remain total for less than half a minute to as long as 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Amateur astronomer Lowell Lyon said it will get darker and darker, with temperature dropping and wildlife suddenly becoming hush.

“All of a sudden – boom! – it suddenly gets dark,” he explained.

A solar eclipse takes place when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, casting a shadow over the planet. A total solar eclipse back in 1860 first shed light on this rare sighting, giving scientists the first documented look at a coronal mass ejection, a massive burst of gas and magnetic field from the sun’s corona set off into the solar wind.

It is always advised to never look at the sun directly without proper protective eye gear such as solar glasses – and this is true whether there’s an eclipse or none.

Photo: Rowan McLaughlin | Flickr

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