How to Plan a Solar Eclipse Party

Total solar eclipse photographed on March 20, 2015, in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Thanakrit Santikunaporn/Shutterstock

Want to see the 2017 total solar eclipse? You better start planning now. (It's not too early, we promise.) The event, which will take place on Aug. 21, 2017, across the U.S., is going to be one of the most spectacular and widely accessible solar shows of our lifetime.

What makes this event such a big deal is that it's the first total solar eclipse to occur within the contiguous United States since Feb. 26, 1979. And unlike the 1979 total eclipse (which was seen only by few people due to its path and the grim weather that day), the 2017 eclipse will stretch across the entire North American continent from the Pacific Coast of Oregon to the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina.

That means there's ample opportunity to either plan or join a dedicated solar eclipse viewing event. Whichever route you take, here are a few tips and ideas to make the most of your experience.

A map showing the path of the 2017 solar eclipse, featuring points where viewing events are happening.
A map showing the path of the 2017 solar eclipse, featuring points where viewing events are happening. SDO/NASA

Plan your own event.

Whether you're hoping to organize a public event for your local community or plan a low-key party with family and friends, you have a lot of options! This is especially true for people who live in Nashville, Tennessee, which is the largest city to boast more than 2 minutes of eclipse totality.

A few other cities that will be able to observe the totality include Salem, Oregon; Casper, Wyoming; Kansas City, Missouri and Columbia, South Carolina. If you'd like to watch the eclipse from the peace and quiet of a natural area, consider planning an excursion to Sawtooth National Forest (Idaho and parts of Utah), Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming), Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina), Congaree National Park or Francis Marion National Forest (both in South Carolina).

Join an already existing event.

NASA has already started collecting a list of planned eclipse-viewing events that stretch from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast.

One of the biggest gatherings will take place just outside of Bend, Oregon. Dubbed the Oregon Solarfest, this four-day festival will feature live music, camping, craft beer and, of course, an optimal view of the solar eclipse in its totality.

You can check out what other events are happening (or add your own!) in this interactive map created by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory team.

A child wears special shades to watch a solar eclipse.
A child wears special shades to watch a solar eclipse. supot phanna/Shutterstock

Come prepared.

While it's safe to look directly at the sun during the totality, you're definitely going to want to have special eclipse glasses for viewing any partial eclipses. (Or if you want to go for a more eccentric look, you can also use a welder's mask.) In any case, make sure you have plenty of extras to hand out in case people don't bring their own.

Your eyes aren't the only thing you should take measures to protect from the sun's rays — bring sunscreen to protect your skin, too! Finally, be sure to pack snacks and refreshments. Extra points if they're space-themed!

Check the weather.

So, you've taken off work and found the perfect spot to view the eclipse, but as you settle in with your protective glasses, you suddenly notice stormy clouds forming in the distance. Oh no!

This is why it's so important to check the weather forecast in the days and hours leading up to the event. If it looks like clouds will be dominating your view during the eclipse, try to have a back-up plan — even if it means driving 30 or more minutes out of your way to a new spot. If all else fails, you can always watch a live stream online, though it might take some of the novelty out of the experience.

Children observe a partial solar eclipse through a Sunspotter.
Children observe a partial solar eclipse through a sunspotter. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/Getty Images

Consider organizing activities before and after the eclipse.

Witnessing this momentous event becomes even more special and interesting when you understand the science of what you're looking at. Whether your group is filled with kids or adults, hands-on activities and experiments are a great way to hype everyone up for the magnitude of such an experience. One of the most common fixtures of any solar viewing party is a sunspotter — a wooden telescope contraption used to observe eclipse or sunspots.

Here are a few other activities you might consider incorporating into your event:

1. Big Sun, Small Moon: "If you’ve ever seen a picture of a solar eclipse, you may have noticed that the moon comes very close to covering the entire sun," explains the Lawrence Hall of Science. "Use a coin and a plate to investigate why the sun and moon look like they’re the same size, though the sun is much bigger."

2. Building a sun-measuring pinhole camera: "The design of your pinhole camera makes it easy to measure the size of the sun’s image without being in danger of accidentally letting direct sunlight into your eyes," explains the Chabot Space and Science Center.

3. Create an eclipse: "Explore [this] fascinating natural phenomena with an easy-to-build model and learn about the movement of the sun, the Earth and the moon," explains Universe Awareness.

Don't be like this guy. Enjoy the eclipse without a mobile device.
Don't be like this guy. Enjoy the eclipse without a mobile device. Richard Bouhet/Getty Images

Put down the camera.

In our social media-obsessed world, you may feel tempted to snap and share some photos during the solar eclipse, but let me dash your hopes here and now by saying you're almost certainly going to regret it. Those two minutes of totality will be over before you know it, so don't waste your time fiddling with the settings on your camera and staring at the event through a viewfinder.

Besides, there will be plenty of other professional photographers out there documenting the event with careful precision and years of expertise, so don't worry about not having a visual reminder of the eclipse. And if you happen to be one of those pro photographers who wants to take a stab at capturing it anyway, consider setting up a timer or rigging up a time-lapse so you can enjoy the experience sans electronic devices.

Don't fret if you won't be able to see it this time around.

Not in the right place at the right time? Unable to take off work? For most people, this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that doesn't mean you'll never have another opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. And it definitely doesn't mean you can't appreciate this one from afar. There will be live streams of the event available online, and of course, the Internet will be filled with replays and recaps.

And if that doesn't make you feel better, then start making plans for the country's next total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.