QUINCY -- Excitement is growing by the day for America's first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years.
It will take place Monday, Aug. 21, when the moon passes between the Earth and sun, casting a massive shadow that will move diagonally across 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina.
The sun will appear to be completely obscured -- for a few seconds to more than 2 1/2 minutes -- within a 70-mile-wide swath known as the "path of totality," which will extend all the way across mid-Missouri and through southern Illinois. Outside of that zone, a partial eclipse will be visible.
Quincy and the rest of the tri-state area are outside the path of totality. However, the partial eclipse is expected to be impressive nonetheless in this area because a vast majority of the sun will be hidden by the moon.
In Quincy, for instance, 97.7 percent of the sun will be blocked at the peak of the eclipse -- around 1:14 p.m.
The eclipse will begin in Quincy at 11:47 a.m. when the moon first begins creeping across the sun. It will end at 2:40 p.m. when the last trace of the moon disappears.
In Hannibal, Mo., 98.4 percent of the sun will be covered at the peak. The further south one goes, the more the sun will be obscured, reaching 99 percent in Frankford, 99.5 percent in Perry, 99.8 percent in Paris.
The line crossing into the zone of totality is approximately 65 miles south of Quincy. That means people who want to experience the total eclipse will need to drive at least to such places as Moberly, where the total eclipse will last 53 seconds; Martinsburg, 1 minute, 8 seconds; or Mexico, 1 minute, 20 seconds.
Those willing to drive a little further -- at least 100 miles -- can experience close to the maximum amount that the total eclipse will be available anywhere.
Columbia, Mo., for example, will be one of the most popular destinations in the Midwest. Only 112 miles from Quincy, Columbia -- home of the University of Missouri's main campus -- will experience totality for nearly 2 minutes, 37 seconds, starting at 1:12 p.m.
Mizzou is planning a gala eclipse-watching event on its campus for students, staff and faculty. Other viewing sites also are being established in Columbia.
Fulton, Mo. -- home of Westminster College -- is also expecting a crowd of visitors. Just 103 miles from Quincy, the city will experience totality for 2 minutes, 34 seconds.
Two Missouri cities south of Quincy -- Luebbering and St. Genevieve -- are situated smack in the heart of the path of totality and will each offer 2 minutes and 40 seconds of darkness, the maximum durations available in Missouri.
The longest duration of totality anywhere in the United States -- 2 minutes, 40.2 seconds -- will take place in and around the southern Illinois town of Makanda and nearby Giant City State Park, both south of Carbondale.
Carbondale itself -- 244 miles from downtown Quincy -- will be a major destination for hordes of eclipse watchers. Southern Illinois University plans to open its football stadium as an eclipse-viewing venue for anyone who shows up. Coincidentally, the Carbondale area will be in the cross-hairs of the next total eclipse that will occur in a portion of the U.S. on April 8, 2024.
Some locations this year will be right on the borderline between partial and total eclipses. Downtown St. Louis, for example, will experience a partial eclipse, with 99.9 percent of the sun covered by the moon. In southwestern parts of the city and suburbs, totality will be enjoyed for various lengths of time by people simply stepping outside their homes.
St. Joseph, Mo., struck it rich in the eclipse lottery. The western Missouri city -- 208 miles from Quincy -- will experience totality for 2 minutes, 37 seconds.
Motel rooms in St. Joseph have been booked for months by people planning to experience the celestial phenomenon, including the wedding party for Samantha Adams and Cameron Kuhn, who scheduled their marriage vows to take place during the eclipse. According to the Associated Press, their wedding will have an eclipse theme, and every guest will be issued a pair of solar glasses for watching the sky safely.
In Missouri's capital, Jefferson City, the total eclipse will last 2 minutes, 28 seconds, and up to 50,000 people are expected to attend the "Capital Eclipse Celebration." All nonessential state offices in Cole County are closing for the day.
Interest in the eclipse has been surging with each passing day -- and for good reason. Total eclipses in the United States don't occur very often. The last time an entire span of the nation experienced a total eclipse was in 1918. The last time a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the continental U.S. was in February 1979 in the Pacific Northwest.
Bob Sadler, a semiretired professor of astronomy at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., witnessed the 1979 total eclipse first-hand. He said the experience was thrilling and unforgettable, and he's certain the Aug. 21 event will be just as exciting for millions of people who venture into the path of totality -- or near it.
"This is probably the event of a lifetime," he said.
Sadler plans to spend a big part of Aug. 21 hosting a free eclipse-watching event at Mark Twain Lake south of Monroe City, Mo. He will be stationed at the M.W. Boudreaux Visitor Center near Clarence Cannon Dam when the partial eclipse begins at 11:46 a.m. and will stay until it ends at 2:40 p.m.
The eclipse will not quite reach totality at that location. Instead, 99.24 percent of the sun will be covered during the peak at 1:14 p.m., according to NASA's interactive eclipse map (eclipse2017.nasa.gov). Sadler nonetheless agreed to give a presentation at that location out of loyalty to Mark Twain Lake, where he has given numerous astronomy programs over the years to stargazers who love heavenly sights.
Sadler said he plans to give a slide show about the eclipse and will have about 50 pairs of solar glasses available so visitors can watch the eclipse safely.
Sadler stressed the importance of using certified solar glasses when viewing a partial eclipse. Such glasses should be stamped with the following International Standards Organization rating number: 12312-2.
"I'd really like to steer people away from looking at the sun through anything but eclipse glasses," he said. Without protective eyewear, "you can cause permanent retina damage if you look at even a portion of the sun for an extended period of time."
Sadler said people in the path of totality will experience darkness, a noticeable drop in temperature and accelerated wind velocity once totality is reached. Some of the same things will occur in partial-eclipse areas, but to a lesser extent -- and without the dramatic impact of seeing the sun's corona encircling the moon.
"There will be much less light, but it won't be the effect that you get from a total eclipse," he said. "You're going to see a really bright sliver of the sun sticking out on the side."
Schools throughout the Quincy-Hannibal area -- and beyond -- are treating the eclipse as an educational opportunity.
The Hannibal School District, for example, bought more than 4,000 pairs of solar glasses so all students, teachers and staff members will have a chance to go outside and watch the partial eclipse when it reaches its peak around 1:14 p.m.
"I'm sure it's going to be an exciting day," said Maria Mundle, assistant superintendent. "We think it's a great learning opportunity for our students."
Mundle said some parents may not want their children to participate in the outdoor viewing event out of concern that kids -- particularly younger ones -- might inadvertently peek at the sun with naked eyes.
"NASA will be dong some live streaming throughout the eclipse, so we will have that on inside for some of our younger students and for those children whose parents don't want them to go outside," Mundle said.
In the Quincy School District, a variety of eclipse-related activities are being planned.
"At this time we are working with our principals to provide learning experiences at all levels," said Carol Frericks, director of student services.
"There are a large host of opportunities for our students to experience everything from actually viewing the eclipse through approved glasses to streaming it so they can watch in classrooms," she said.
"We want to make sure that we put safety procedures in place so students are always safe. We plan to communicate with our parents as soon as school starts" on Aug. 17.
Brandi Many, who teaches physics at Quincy High School, said the school's science teachers are planning some outdoor viewing activities during the eclipse. She said about 400 pairs of solar-equipped goggles have been ordered, so kids will be able to watch the partial eclipse safely.
"If you don't have a pair of goggles on, you cannot look up at the sun because it will surely damage your eyes," she said.
Many said students also will be making pin-hole projectors so the eclipse can be observed without eyewear. She said some students also will participate in a NASA-sponsored "citizen science" experiment to observe and log temperature changes during the partial eclipse.
"I'm expecting it to be pretty dark outside," she said. "It's not going to be total darkness, but it's going to be pretty close."
Many said she's excited that students will get a chance to experience such a significant celestial event.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity," she said. "They might not ever get to see this again."
Some local teachers are planning to take small groups of students on field trips to the path of totality.
For example, two science teachers at Hannibal High School -- Quintin Heaton and Shannon Rosenkrans -- are taking 75 students on a bus trip to Fulton to experience the total eclipse.
"This is a very unique opportunity to be able to do this," Heaton said. "To me, this is a lifetime memory. It's such a rare opportunity. It warrants putting some effort into letting these kids experience it."
All students at the high school were offered the opportunity to sign up for the total-eclipse bus trip last spring. Heaton said all 75 who signed up are paying a small fee to cover travel costs, and each student will receive a pair of solar glasses. Westminster professors have agreed to give the kids some educational information related to the eclipse.
Heaton said he thinks viewing the total eclipse will be a memorable eye-opener for the students. "It's going to be an experience for me, too," he said. "I've never seen one, either."
As always with astronomical events, weather will play a critical role in the quality of the experience.
Sadler said that if a thin layer of mid-level altostratus clouds are occupying the sky, "you will see a very dull image of the sun shining through that cloud."
However, he added, "if there are heavier lower clouds, the sun will be totally obscured, and it's just going to be a nonevent for observing the sun. But you'll still see the change in the light level. You'll still see the darkness."
Luckily, he said, the odds are generally favorable for good viewing conditions this time of year.
"The further into August we get, the better the chances for clear skies," he said.
Dr. Linda Chous, chief eye care officer for UnitedHealthcare, says looking at a solar eclipse without proper protection can cause serious eye damage, including blurry vision that can last months or even permanent problems.
She offered the following tips from the American Optometric Association for safely viewing the solar eclipse:
º It is unsafe to look directly at the sun with the naked eye at any time during a partial solar eclipse. The only time it's safe to look at the sun is if you are in the path of totality during the brief period when the sun is completely obscured by the moon.
º Use approved solar eclipse glasses and avoid the fake viewers that are being sold. Read and follow any instructions packaged with or printed on the glasses. A list of approved vendors is at: eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.
º Do not look at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses, because the concentrated solar rays can damage the filter, enter your eyes and cause serious injury.
º Eclipse glasses should be removed only after the moon completely blocks the sun along the path of totality. Glasses should be put back on before the sun re-emerges from behind the moon.
º Visit a local eye care professional for a comprehensive exam if you or a family member experience discomfort or vision problems following the eclipse.