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Idaho stargazers prepare for first total solar eclipse in 99 years

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Two minutes. That's how long this summer's total eclipse—the first since 1918—is expected to last. The rarity of the Monday, Aug. 21, event is expected to attract thousands of visitors to Idaho, which is in the direct path of the eclipse.

There will be perfect views in the communities of Cascade, Challis, Idaho Falls and Ketchum. Despite its short duration, the "Great American Eclipse" is considered extraordinary by most stargazers. The eclipse, which will occur here at around 11:30 a.m., is projected to cast a shadow across the breadth of the U.S.—and no other country—and Idaho is one of the few states to be in its direct path. Views of the sun should be completely blocked by the moon, turning day into night.

"It's an incredibly rare event," said College of Idaho Physics Professor James Dull. "It's an event that happens at any particular spot on Earth about once in 400 years, so it's something that people want to take the opportunity to view."

South and North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Oregon are also in line for ideal eclipse views, where the sun will be entirely blocked from view in certain areas of those states.

Not taking the chance to witness this year's eclipse means waiting until at least 2024 for the next partial eclipse in the U.S.—and it will be visible nowhere near Idaho.

"Idaho is a great place [to see ] this year's eclipse because we're on the line of totality and the skies are great. There's nothing that's going to get in the way," said Dull. "Idaho is still known for its clear skies, especially during the summertime."

The path of the Aug. 21 eclipse in the US will travel from the West to the East Coast and will pass through the middle of Idaho in a 60-mile radius from Weiser on the Idaho/Oregon border to Rexburg on Idaho's eastern border. Experts say Idaho's relatively cloudless days should likely make the event easy to witness for locals and thousands of anticipated tourists.

"It's going to give us a lot of opportunity for visitors. There's going to be a lot of tourists here," said Dull. "I imagine we will get probably a couple hundred thousand visitors."

With so many people expected to converge on Idaho's smaller communities, it may quickly become difficult to book a place to stay during the weekend prior to the event. Most campsites, hotels and motels across the line of totality in Idaho's path are already fully booked. Like most other cities and towns, places like Idaho Falls, Driggs, Stanley, Sun Valley and Weiser are already near capacity.

In eastern Idaho, a number of eclipse watchers have already booked rooms in the historic Idaho City Hotel, built in 1929—11 years after the last total eclipse in the U.S. The hotel's current owner, Cinda Heron, said as of press time, she only had a couple of rooms left for the the days immediately before and after the eclipse.

Although it may be a challenge to find an hotel, motel or cabin, the Idaho Department of Tourism stated day-trips are always an option, despite the potential for increased traffic congestion. A few cities are even hosting festivals and special events during the weekend before the eclipse. The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve will be hosting a "Star Party" featuring plenty of food vendors in the town of Arco the day of the event. According to greatamericaneclipse.com, the northernmost tip of Craters of the Moon should be one of the most ideal spots to experience the "totality" of the eclipse. BYU Idaho in Rexburg is allowing guests to reserve viewing areas on campus. In nearby Rigby, the city will host a fair with crafts, food and live entertainment throughout the day of the eclipse. More communities are expected to put together their own attractions for Aug. 21 as they compete for tourist dollars.

Even those Idaho cities and towns not in the direct path of the eclipse are expected to experience some of the event.

"Even though Boise is not in the line of totality, we're still going to get over 90 percent of the sun blocked off during about a two-minute period as the eclipse is occurring," said Dull. "So yes, Boise is still a good place to see the eclipse."

The eclipse will be visible in Idaho starting at the western edge of the state at approximately 11:25 a.m. Mountain Time and make its way to the eastern border of Idaho and Wyoming at 11:36 a.m. The duration of the eclipse for every position on the path will be one to two minutes.

Whether a partial or total eclipse, some experts caution would-be gazers to wear special "certified solar viewing" glasses, sold online from $12 to $42. According to NASA's eclipse website, it's important not to "observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness."

Absent a pair of "certified" glasses, NASA reports the safest and most inexpensive way to view an eclipse is by "projection in which a pinhole or small opening is used to cast the image of the sun on a screen (or on the ground) a half-meter or more beyond the opening. Binoculars can also be used to project a magnified image of the sun on a white card, but you must avoid the temptation of using these instruments for direct viewing."

"Once [the sun] is in totality, you definitely want to look at it. If you're in the totality zone, you can safely look at the sun," said Dull. "But the problem is, you want to make sure it's in totality before you look up."

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