Monday, August 21st, the United States will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse. Total solar eclipses occur every 18 months or so, but because of the Earth and Moon's orbit shapes, visibility occurs at a different location on Earth each time. This means a total solar eclipse that is visible from the US is a rare occurrence. The last time the US experienced a total solar eclipse was on March 7th of 1970 and the next one visible from our nation won't occur until 2024!
For the lucky residents of a roughly 70-mile-wide swath of the nation that cuts through ten states (Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina), otherwise known as the "path of totality", the view will be of a complete or nearly-complete eclipse, in which the shadow of the moon completely blocks out the sun. You can visit this page on Space.com to see the eclipse schedule for a handful of cities that lie in the center of the path.
For those outside the path of totality, the view will be of a partial eclipse, in which the moon appears to block out a portion of the sun, making the event slightly less spectacular, but no less special. To find out when the solar eclipse will be visible to you, visit this page and enter your city or county in the search box at the right. You can also visit NASA's eclipse page and view a map of the viewing area.
If you have never experienced a total solar eclipse before and are able to be within the path of totality, there are a few key characteristics of this celestial phenomenon you may be surprised to see or experience:
- Dimmed light: It will seem like twilight for the few minutes that the moon's shadow darkens the sun.
- Dropping temperatures: If there were any doubts that we need the sun to warm us, this will put them to rest.
- Visible stars: The darkened sky can make it possible to see stars and may even offer a glimpse of Mercury as it orbits the sun.
- Light show: Viewers report seeing "streamers of light" that radiate out from the sun's corona surrounding the silhouette of the moon.
For those outside the path of totality, this information might make you want to travel to one of the locations where the eclipse will be complete, but consider yourself warned: you won't be the only one. Accommodations in the locations along the path are likely booked (and have been for months or years), and traffic will present a challenge as populations within the path are expected to double on the day of the event. To learn more about what you can expect to see in the path of totality, check out this fun and educational video.
If you choose to view this event, the most important thing to remember is this: NEVER look directly at the sun, even when it is partially obscured, without the proper protective eyewear. The likelihood of permanent damage to your eyes is too great to risk it. For indirect viewing, you can assemble a DIY pinhole camera. For safe direct viewing, you can purchase "eclipse glasses" that meet the international standard (ISO 12312-2) recommended by NASA, the AAS, and other scientific organizations. Here are a few:
Again, NEVER look at the sun without the proper protective eyewear. Sunglasses don't count, either! Here are more safety tips for viewing the eclipse.
This rare natural event is worth seeing no matter where you live in the US. If you find yourself unable to join in the viewing outdoors, you can also watch a live stream event.
We'd love for our members to share their eclipse-viewing experiences with us and one another, so if you take pictures during your viewing experience, feel free to share them with us. If you're an experienced photographer who knows how to safely photograph the eclipse, please share those images with us as well, by:
- Visiting our Facebook page and posting a comment with photos, telling us where you live (if you feel comfortable) and what your experience was like.
- Sending us an e-mail and putting "Attn: B. Bachman - Eclipse Photos" in the subject line. Please include your name, where you live, and any interesting notes about your experience.
We will post images on our blog and list members (by first name only) following this once-in-a-lifetime event. Be safe and enjoy the eclipse!