Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017

Frequently Asked Questions on the eclipse and the crowds

En Espanol


Q: What’s so special about a total solar eclipse?

A: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking the sun’s light and casting a shadow over Earth. Many who have witnessed total solar eclipses describe them as among the most spectacular things they have ever seen, and find them difficult to describe. During the totality phase, the daytime sky becomes black, stars and planets become visible, a corona appears around the sun, and light falls on the Earth in a way that doesn’t happen at any other time. In addition, total solar eclipses are rare. Even when they do occur on Earth, many pass largely through oceans or remote areas where few can see them. For instance, the last total solar eclipse to touch the continental US was in 1979, and the next will be in 2024, but it will only be visible between Texas and Maine. The last total solar eclipse to pass over Idaho Falls was in 1889, and the next won’t be until 2252.


Q: Why are so many people coming here to see it?

A: First and foremost, by virtue of I-15, Idaho Falls is the closest driving destination in the path of totality for nearly 40 million Americans, including people from Southern California, Southern Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. In addition, Eastern Idaho’s record of sunny August skies makes it unlikely that clouds will spoil the event – which could happen elsewhere in the country. The region’s natural beauty offers many scenic vantage points, Idaho Falls offers many amenities, and the extensive road network and low population density should keep traffic clearer than in other areas along the eclipse path. We are extraordinarily fortunate to live here and experience this event from the comfort of home, for the modest price of a few days of busier roads and restaurants – which anyhow will likely contribute to the vitality of our local economy.


Q: How long will the eclipse last?

A: In Idaho Falls, the partial phase will begin Monday, August 21st at 10:15am and last until 12:58pm. Totality will begin at 11:33am and last about 1 minute and 48 seconds.


Q: Is it possible to receive a similar experience outside the path of totality?

A: No. In order to see the total eclipse, you must be within the approximately 70-mile band of totality stretching from just south of Shelley to just north of Ashton. You will be able to see a partial eclipse from most of the United States, but partial eclipses are relatively common and lack the drama and beauty of a total eclipse. Even areas near the path of totality, where the sun is 99.9% eclipsed, lack the full experience, according to astronomers, since observers there will not see the sky fully darken or see the stars and planets suddenly become visible or see the corona of light around the sun.


Q: How can we predict when total solar eclipses will happen?

A: The earth moves in a predictable pattern around the sun, and the moon moves in a predictable pattern around the earth. The moon also has predictable cycle of phases. Using this evidence, astronomers can very accurately determine when the orbits of the earth and moon will line up with the sun during the new-moon phase.


Q: Isn’t the moon a lot smaller than the sun? How can it totally obscure the sun’s light?

A: Yes! The moon is approximately 400 times smaller than the sun, but the sun is also roughly 400 times farther away. This is why from Earth, the two celestial bodies appear to be about the same size.


Q: Will there be a temperature drop during the total eclipse?

A: Yes! During totality, the temperature will drop to a point resembling common nighttime temperatures.


Q: Why don’t solar eclipses happen more frequently?

A: Earth’s orbit around the sun is not in the same plane as the moon’s orbit around the Earth, meaning the orbits cross each other at an angle. Even when solar eclipses do occur somewhere in the Earth, they are often only visible in remote areas.


Q: Is it safe to look at the sun during the eclipse?

A: The ONLY time it is safe to look at an eclipse is in the brief time of totality – the 1 minute and 48 seconds when the sun is completely blocked. During the partial phase, which will last for almost three hours, you will need appropriate protection to look at the sun without risking either temporary or permanent loss of visual function. The best protection is a pair of special glasses made out of aluminized mylar made specifically for solar eclipses. Be sure to take the glasses off ONLY during totality for best viewing. You can also use #14 welder’s glass. Regular sunglasses, smoked glass, and many welders’ masks are not sufficient. The fact that the sun appears dim, or that you feel no discomfort when looking at the sun through such a filter, is no guarantee that your eyes are safe.


Q: Is it safe to photograph the eclipse?

A: Photographing the eclipse safely will be trickier than it sounds. You will need to take special precautions to avoid damaging your equipment and your eyes. All color film, black-and-white film that contains no silver, photographic negatives with images on them (x-rays and snapshots), photographic neutral density filters, and polarizing filters, are unsafe. Most of these transmit high levels of invisible infrared radiation, which can cause thermal retinal burns. The Museum of Idaho is hosting workshops on August 2nd and 18th on how to photograph the eclipse safely, and you can click here for additional tips.


Q: Where can I get eclipse glasses?

A: The Museum of Idaho is including free eclipse glasses with all admission tickets starting August 1st. You may also purchase glasses from the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce and several local retailers.


Q: How can I view the eclipse without solar eclipse glasses?

A: You can find instructions for making a pinhole projector here. Pinhole projectors allow you to watch the partial phases of the eclipse by watching projected light on the ground rather than staring directly at the sun. Remember, it is safe to look at the eclipse with the naked eye ONLY during the totality phase.


Q: Where is the best place to see the eclipse?

A: Look for any place where you can clearly see the sky without obstructions such as trees or buildings. Many residents’ own homes will work just fine. In addition, Idaho Falls has many parks and open spaces that will meet these criteria, and it has designated four official viewing sites – Community Park, Freeman Park, Tautphaus Park, and the Museum of Idaho – all of which will be equipped with additional amenities such as port-a-potties. If you want to view the eclipse from outside city limits, just make sure not to leave the band of totality.


Q: Can I look at the eclipse through a telescope or binoculars?

A: With binoculars, you can only look safely using a sun projector, which you can learn how to make here, or by using special lenses for your telescope. If you don’t have your own telescope, the Museum of Idaho is holding educational events that can help you out.


Q: Will the eclipse impact human behavior?

A: Because we know exactly when the eclipse will take place, people can take appropriate measures allowing them to go about their normal activities. However, we do see some interesting behavioral changes in animals, because many depend on a day/night cycle. During the eclipse, you may notice that birds stop singing, crickets start chirping, and mosquitoes come out to feed. Additionally, scientists have determined that bees have a marked change in behavior (possibly due to flowers closing up) and squirrels show an increase in activity. The greatest impact on human behavior will simply be the number of people who come to the area to view the eclipse.





  1. How many visitors will there be?
  2. It’s impossible to predict how many visitors will come to the area, but some estimates range upward of 500,000, which would be unprecedented in the Idaho Falls area for any one time. Many visitors will likely arrive by Friday, August 18th – if not before – and stay through eclipse day (Monday, the 21st) or Tuesday the 22nd.


  1. How will the number of visitors affect road travel and traffic?
  2. Plan on extended travel times on eclipse weekend, even when not traveling to eclipse venues. This includes routes both on city streets and on highways. Planners say the worst traffic may not come from people coming to see the eclipse, but motorists eager to leave the area soon afterward. Despite what rumors you may have heard, there are no plans for closures of highways or major roads during eclipse weekend. Idaho State Police plan to bolster patrols through the eclipse area, pulling in troopers from elsewhere in the state that weekend, and the Idaho Department of Transportation is suspending construction Aug. 19-21 in areas where they anticipate heavy traffic. Officials suggest filling your gas tank early (prices could rise closer to the event) and bringing food, water, both credit cards and cash (in case ATMs run out), and any other necessary provisions such as medication.


  1. How will the number of visitors impact cellular and internet service?
  2. High communication demands could overload cellular towers, disrupting service at different periods when the crowds are the most significant. Internet is likely to be slow due to extremely high demand. Landline telephones, however, are less likely to be affected. Download the Eastern Idaho Eclipse mobile app – which has information that can be accessed offline – for details on events, emergency services, and more as the time draws nearer.


  1. How will the number of visitors affect emergency services?
  2. Due to the number of people in the area, it will likely take longer than usual for public safety professionals to respond to 911 calls. If cellular service is down and there is an emergency, landlines are more likely to be reliable. In Idaho Falls, city officials and first responders will be employing a redundancy radio system to communicate with each other. Always know where your nearest medical center is. On eclipse weekend, the following locations may be available for medical services.



  1. Lost Rivers Medical Center (551 Highland Dr. – emergency room open 24/7)


  1. Challis Area Health Center (611 Clinic Rd. – 8:30am-5:30pm M-F, closed weekends)


  1. Four Peaks Clinic and Urgent Care (852 Valley Centre Dr. – 8:30am-6pm M-F, 10am-2pm Sat, closed Sun)

Idaho Falls:

  1. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (3100 Channing Way – open 24/7)
  2. Ammon Medical & Urgent Care (3456 E. 17th – 8am-8pm M-F, 10am-6pm weekend)
  3. Idaho Urgent Care (740 S. Woodruff Ave. – 8am-8pm every day)
  4. Mountain Falls Quick Care (1995 E. 17th9am-8pm M-Sat, closed Sun)
  5. Mountain View Hospital RediCare (2730 Channing Way – 6am-1am every day)
  6. Idaho Falls Fire Stations:
    1. 343 E St.
    2. 3475 Leihm Lane
    3. 2125 Federal Way
    4. 3180 S. Woodruff Ave.
    5. 1755 S. Bellin Rd.


  1. Lost Rivers Medical Center (313 E. Custer – 9am-5pm M-F, closed weekends)


  1. Madison Memorial Hospital (450 E. Main St. – open 24/7)
  2. Fall River Family Medicine and Urgent Care (21 Winn Dr. – 8am-8pm every day)
  3. Upper Valley Family Practice and Urgent Care (32 W. 1st8am-8pm M-Sat, closed Sun)

St. Anthony:

  1. Fremont Family Medicine and Urgent Care (30 W. Main St. – 8am-7pm M-F, 8am-3pm Sat, closed Sun)
  2. How will the number of visitors affect power, sewer, and sanitation services?
  3. Idaho Falls Power and Rocky Mountain Power are working to ensure their systems will work at maximum capacity during eclipse weekend. Officials do not anticipate power outages, but it is impossible to rule out outages completely, because much depends on factors such as squirrels and car accidents interrupting power lines. Idaho Falls wastewater treatment facilities can handle a capacity of double the usual rate, but residents should not dispose of trash in plumbing or sewer systems, as that could cause problems. Call 208-612-8108 if wastewater issues occur. for Residential garbage pickup in the City of Idaho Falls will be delayed by one day on the week of the eclipse. Commercial garbage pickup will be increased in Idaho Falls during eclipse weekend, however.


  1. How should I prepare my home?
  2. Though catastrophic events and shortages are not likely, officials suggest keeping a 96-hour emergency supply kit and enough food and water for 2 weeks. Officials also suggest shopping early, because of traffic delays and the possibility that stores may run out of needed supplies. Consider posting a “no trespassing” sign if you live in a high-traffic area.


  1. How should I prepare my business?
  2. Many businesses should expect a big jump in customers. If you plan to remain open, officials suggest planning ahead for staffing issues, keeping extra supplies on hand, and preparing for alternate ways to complete transactions should there be disruptions in internet service and credit card readers. Expect challenges with language barriers and customers who may be primarily interested in using restrooms. Take appropriate measures to secure your property. If you do not need to be open during eclipse weekend, consider closing and allowing your staff and customers to remain off the roads.


  1. Can I sell food and drinks to tourists?
  2. Vendors planning to provide time- or temperature-sensitive food must have an Idaho Food Establishment License covering the specific event. Applications for temporary event food licenses must be received by Eastern Idaho Public Health (EIPH) at least two weeks prior to the event. Some food that is not time- or temperature-controlled for safety and meets the conditions stipulated in the Idaho Food Code for either cottage food or low-risk food may qualify for a Cottage Food/Low-Risk Food Assessment. In either case, all prospective food vendors must contact EIPH early in the event-planning process to determine their licensing and assessment requirements. Event planners should receive copies of the license or assessment before allowing food vendors to participate in the event.


  1. Can I sell handmade goods to tourists?
  2. In order to sell goods, you must be part of an organized event that has a license for vendors. Contact the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, Snake River Landing, or Rotary Club of Idaho Falls for information on participating in events they are conducting over eclipse weekend.


  1. Can I allow people to stay on my property? Can I rent space?
  2. Short-term rentals, such as AirBnB, are allowed in Idaho Falls, but they are subject to taxes such as the Auditorium District Tax. Camping outside of designated spaces in the City of Idaho Falls and Bonneville County is prohibited, but it may be allowed in other areas. However, the City of Idaho Falls has opened three parks for overnight camping to accommodate guests: Idaho Falls Raceway at Noise Park, South Tourist Park, and Sandy Downs. Click HEREfor additional information or call Idaho Falls Parks & Recreation at (208) 612-8480.


  1. How can I receive updates?
  2. Leading up to the eclipse, keep an eye on local news sources, including in print, TV, web, and radio, for updates. Local government officials have also posted a great deal of information on their websites, such as and, and provide updates as they receive new information. Several radio stations, including NewsRadio 106.3 FM, will be broadcasting throughout eclipse weekend with public information.


  1. How can I help?
  2. First of all, please be alert, patient, and kind and helpful to visitors. This will be a new experience for all of us, and there will inevitably be unknowns. Second, be prepared. Fill your gas tanks, buy food and water ahead of time, have cash on hand, and encourage your neighbors and friends to do the same. Third, plan extra time when traveling anywhere over eclipse weekend, and be prepared for delays. Finally, if feasible, consider closing your business for the day to help with traffic congestion.

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