5 Tips from a NASA Expert to Plan a Perfect Eclipse Experience


The Williamson Source sat down with Lonnie Puterbaugh this week, the NASA ambassador for the state of Tennessee, for all things eclipse.

He gave us his tips for the perfect eclipse viewing experience and let us know the places he thinks are ideal spots to go on the day of.

The eclipse can be thought of as a 65-mile in diameter Mach 2 funnel cloud, Puterbaugh said. The shadow will be moving across the country at roughly twice the speed of sound. The center line will go roughly through Hendersonville southeastern toward Sparta.

1. Watch the Weather

“The weather forecast is my number one influence in a decision about where to view it,” Puterbaugh said.

So it might be best to keep an eye on the extended forecast to avoid clouds. Pick two or three locations for back up locations.

Puterbaugh said he changed his mind several times already based on local weather forecasts and expected cloud cover. Obviously, the less the better.

2. Lonnie’s Choice Locations

However, Puterbaugh had a few suggestions for areas around Middle Tennesee.

“I have told everyone to head to Lebanon or that direction using I-840 if they want to avoid traffic and still have a chance at a lengthy totality duration over 2 minutes and 30 seconds,” he said. “I still recommend somewhere near Opry Mills as well for closer in that gets well over 2 minutes duration. I’ve spent enormous amounts of time on looking outside of Tennessee to the west along the path. Today, my number one choice is St. Clair, MO. Two days ago it was Perryville, MO and yesterday it was near Gallatin.”

Here is an interactive map from NASA that can help you choose a location.

3. Pick an Early Time to Leave, Then Leave Even Earlier

An estimated more than 5 million people will be coming to the Middle Tennessee area to view the eclipse. Once you choose your spot, leave early. The eclipse will come at 1:29 p.m. for Nashville. To ensure a spot at your chosen location, you may want to leave as early at 4 or 5 a.m. Puterbaugh said depending on the location, it is better safe than sorry.

4. Avoid the Edge

The eclipse, of course, is the shadow of the moon projected onto the surface of the earth. It is a common misconception, however, to think of it as a perfect circle. The moon’s surface is variable, with mountains, valleys and ridges. Also, as the shadow projects down onto the uneven surface of the Earth, the shadow will also be distorted. This is called the limb. Those will be blown up and exaggerated, so that those at the edges of the 65-mile wide shadow could experience varying daylight and shadow.

Of great importance when picking where you will view the total eclipse, the closer to the center of the shadow, the better. Avoid the edges, Puterbaugh said.

5. Know When to Take Your Glasses Off and Put Them Back On

A common misunderstanding is that, once the eclipse reaches totality, you need to keep your glasses on to view the sun.

“It will be about the same amount of light and radiation as if it were a full moon,” Puterbaugh said.

It is safe to look at the corona once the eclipse reaches totality. But it is best to know how long it will last at your location, to make sure you put your glasses back on if you are going to view the sun as the eclipse ends.

This is another reason why it is safer to avoid the edges. It can seem like totality, but because of the limb, it might suddenly become light again and injure your eyes.

There are several apps that will time the eclipse based on your location. Puterbaugh said these might not be accurate to the exact second, so time your glasses on/off moments with extra time to spa