Hope S. Philbrick • For the AJC

It’s not too early to call the word of the year for 2017: totality.

The sun, moon and Earth will align this August, and, to fully appreciate that rare cosmic event, it’s best to be in the centerline of the totality. That will be a hot topic of conversation this year — some tourism professionals have been talking about it for months already.

Predicting the future is a gamble, but this is a sure bet backed by science: On Monday, Aug. 21, a total eclipse will be visible within a narrow corridor that passes through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.

The most recent total solar eclipse occurred in 1991, but this will be the first since 1918 to cross the nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and the first since 1979 to be visible within the 48 contiguous states.

A two- to three-hour partial eclipse will be visible across the country, but the total eclipse will be much briefer, lasting up to 2 minutes, 41.6 seconds. You must be somewhere within the central path, where the moon casts its shadow on Earth, to see the total eclipse. It’s only safe to look directly at an eclipse with proper solar glasses or filters, or during totality.

To get in on the totality, you’ll have to plan ahead, since many people are expected to visit the centerline zone. Among the best spots for viewing and celebrating the total eclipse in the Southeast:

Rabun County

Totality: 2 minutes, 40 seconds, beginning at 2:35 p.m. EDT

The centerline path of the eclipse touches only Georgia’s northeast corner. Rabun County is planning several special events throughout the weekend, including bluegrass at Tallulah Falls with hot dogs and old-fashioned jam sessions, an Eclipse Golf Tournament & 19th Hole Festivities at Sky Valley Country Club, a lecture series featuring astronomers at three different information levels (one appropriate for children, another for curiosity seekers, and one for scientists and aspiring astronomers), and a 5K run. On Aug. 21, join the OutASight Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Party in the company of Georgia State University astronomers; jumbotrons linked to NASA will track momentum to local totality, when it’s safe to remove protective eyewear. Special events at Tallulah Gorge State Park and Black Rock Mountain State Park are being planned, as are exclusive parties at Beechwood Inn, Dillard House and other area venues. explorerabun.com/total-eclipse.

Paducah, Ky.

Totality: 2 minutes, 19 seconds, beginning at 1:22 p.m. CDT

Located halfway between the point of longest duration (Carbondale, Ill.) and greatest eclipse (Hopkinsville, Ky.), Paducah sits in the path of totality for this 2017 total eclipse plus the next one in 2024, unique among the destinations we’ve listed. A UNESCO-designated Creative City of Crafts & Folk Art, Paducah is planning a weekend of cultural events and activities culminating with the eclipse. Official viewing areas will be designated in the historic downtown, along the riverfront and at the new Fountain Avenue Health Park. Celebrations will be staged throughout town, including at the Challenger Learning Center and nearby Golden Pond Planetarium (both with an astronomy slant), plus the National Quilt Museum (the world’s largest quilt and fiber art museum, with a focus on arts and crafts), River Discovery Center (with barbecue and music), farmers market (with local vendors), McCracken County Public Library and more. paducah.travel/event/solar-eclipse-2017.

Hopkinsville, Ky.

Totality: 2 minutes, 41 seconds, beginning at 1:24 p.m. CDT

Recognized by NASA as the point of greatest eclipse, Hopkinsville is where the sun, moon and earth will line up most perfectly. Dozens of events are scheduled around the community all weekend, including the Little Green Men Festival, commemorating the alien encounter that allegedly occurred in Christian County on Aug. 21, 1955 (a date coincidence! Or is it?). The Kentucky Bourbon Mashoree at MB Roland Distillery will feature various Kentucky distilleries and their products, alongside music and food; Casey Jones Distillery has produced Lights Out, the official moonshine of the eclipse, made using corn first sent into space. An Eclipse-Con, modeled on Comic-Con, with a comics and sci-fi focus, will be held at the convention center. Other plans include an evangelical speaker, 5K run, environmental education, Summer Salute Festival with games for kids, Bluegrass Bash at Burdoc Farms, festivities at the Western-themed Copper Canyon Ranch, and more. eclipseville.com.

Gallatin, Tenn.

Totality: 2 minutes, 40 seconds, beginning at 1:27 p.m. CDT

The last total eclipse to pass through Sumner County was in 1478. After 2017, the next will occur in about 550 years. That makes this total eclipse, which will be visible throughout Sumner County, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event. The center line tracks directly through Triple Creek Park in Gallatin and Bledsoe Creek State Park near Castalian Springs. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 21 in Triple Creek Park, the Gallatin TN Eclipse Encounter will offer a giant yoga class, live music, vendors and food. For details on the free event (parking donation encouraged), visit solareclipsetn.com. Activities and a special eclipse viewing party are also being planned for Bledsoe Creek State Park (tnstateparks.com/activities/solar-eclipse-at-the-park-2017). Nashville, located about 30 minutes from Gallatin, deserves special note as the largest city wholly within the path of the totality. While its location is off center by about 20 miles, it still will enjoy nearly 2 minutes of darkness. visitmusiccity.com/featuredevents/eclipse.

Columbia, S.C.

Totality: 2 minutes, 36 seconds, beginning at 2:41 p.m. EDT

The South Carolina state capital sits in the path of totality and will host a Total Eclipse Weekend. Special programs will include a run of eclipse-related films at Nickelodeon Theatre, a multi-game schedule for the Columbia Fireflies baseball team (including a Monday afternoon game during the eclipse), and a special “Star Wars”-themed matinee performance by the South Carolina Philharmonic. Meet one of the 12 astronauts who have walked on the moon at the South Carolina State Museum, plus tour the telescope gallery, catch a planetarium show and enjoy evening viewing in the observatory. Plans are underway for history tours, children’s programs, outdoor festivals, art installations and more. Multiple viewing parties will be staged throughout the city as well as at Lake Murray. totaleclipsecolumbiasc.com.

As of mid-December, all featured destinations still had overnight accommodations available. Contact the local tourism office for help with reservations if needed.

To learn more, visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov.