eclipse map US (copy)

A map of the United States showing the path of totality for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. 

NASA/Goddard/SVS/Ernie Wright

Crys Aprill and her family began planning for the solar eclipse a year ago, determined to travel to see a total blocking of the sun instead of staying put and catching only a partial eclipse.

Aprill initially wanted to head to her aunt's home in Isle of Palms, S.C., the last place the U.S. that the eclipse will be visible on Monday afternoon as it moves along a 70-mile wide path from Oregon to South Carolina. But that location is likely to be crowded, and her aunt warned that it's difficult to get off the island if weather turns bad.

So the family will head west to watch the event from their car on Interstate 24, either in Kentucky or Tennessee, wherever the skies are clearest.

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Total eclipse... 12/04/02 copy for Red (copy)

A total solar eclipse in 2002. 

New Orleans area residents who aren't heading for prime viewing territory won't miss out completely on the astronomical phenomenon, however. In Louisiana, 75 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon as it passes between the earth and sun along its elliptical orbit. Maximum coverage will happen here at 1:29 p.m.

While the early afternoon timing is optimum for science teachers to make the most of the celestial event, the University of New Orleans is opening its eclipse activities to the general public, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Earl K. Long Library when NASA's livestream of the solar eclipse will be shown.

UNO math instructor Joel Webb will give a presentation at 12:30 p.m. followed by UNO professor and astrophysicist Greg Seab at 12:45 p.m. At 1:20 p.m., visitors will go out to the Quad to watch the eclipse, although the university only has 100 pairs of solar viewing glasses and a limited number of pin hole projectors, essential for safe viewing.

University spokesman Adam Norris said he can't predict how many people will come to the event, but anything UNO does involving space or celestial events tends to draw big crowds.

And this event is unusual.

A total solar eclipse happens about once a year somewhere on the planet, said Dana Browne, LSU professor and associate chair of physics. But they are rare in any one place, usually occurring about once every 400 years in the same spot.

Since most of the earth is covered with oceans, eclipses may only be visible over land for a short time. Monday's event is unusual because the path will go over land for a long period of time.

The last time even part of the United States experienced a total solar eclipse was in 1979. It was nearly a century ago, on June 8, 1918, that a total eclipse moved across the entire country, according to NASA. The next such event won't happen until Aug. 12, 2045, although parts of the United States will experience a total eclipse in just seven years, on April 8, 2024.

The obscuring of the sun allows the sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, normally too dim to be seen, to be observed. NASA will have 11 ground-based science investigations across the United States during the eclipse, six of them focused on the corona.

Students from LSU, McNeese State, Delgado Community College and Louisiana Tech will be among those participating in a NASA-sponsored project at Southern Illinois University's football stadium in Carbondale, Illinois.

They will launch two high-altitude balloons at about noon to conduct atmospheric measurements during the eclipse. One of the balloons will have a camera payload that will provide a live feed of the eclipse from 100,000 feet in the air, broadcast on NASA's website at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.

The project, led by the Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University, has been years in the making, according to a news release. It will be the first time high-altitude video footage of a total eclipse will be broadcast live.

While the eclipse is serious business for some, for others, it's an opportunity to celebrate. Dentist Kristie Reine is planning a viewing party on the front her Slidell office, complete with eclipse-themed refreshments like Moon Pie and Sun Chips.

Reine said that she ordered 150 pairs of protective glasses and has been handing them out to patients all week. "We like to celebrate everything," she said.

For Aprill, the draw of a total eclipse proved irresistible, despite losing a car in recent flooding in New Orleans and uncertainty about whether the family would be able to squeeze in a road trip before taking her son off to his first year of college. She's also checking her 10-year-old daughter out of school for two days.

She remembers standing under crape myrtle trees in New Orleans during the 1979 eclipse and watching as tiny crescents appeared all over the sidewalk, formed by small holes in the leaves that acted like nature's own pinhole cameras.

"It's close enough," she said of Monday's eclipse. "I want to see it."

Reporters David Mitchell and Charles Lussier contributed to this report. 

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.