“On Aug. 21, 2017, people across the United States will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twilight, causing the temperature drop rapidly and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon. On that day, America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse.” – Space.com
The 2017 eclipse is already being called the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” and many people are extremely excited for this one, some have been waiting decades to see it!
If you want to get the most out of the mid-August eclipse, you’ll need to plan ahead and know all about what to expect and most importantly how to protect yourself from it.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, and the moon casts a shadow over Earth. A solar eclipse can only take place at the phase of new moon, when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth and its shadows fall upon Earth’s surface. But whether the alignment produces a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse depends on several factors.
For this upcoming great American total solar eclipse the path of totality happens to pass beautifully across a number of states in a narrow arc which will be approximately 75 miles wide. It starts up on the Pacific Northwest coast of Oregon and travels over and down on a southeasterly bend crossing over parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, before ending in South Carolina. According to Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao, approximately 12 million people live in the narrow path of totality and a further 220 million live within a one day drive of it.
Those who are lucky enough to experience the eclipse in the path of totality will have anywhere between a few seconds and 2 minutes and 44 seconds of it, which is the longest period of totality according to data provided by the US Naval Observatory on their official eclipse page. In case you’re wondering, the exact spot with the greatest duration is located somewhere within the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.
Of course, all views of the eclipse hinge on two important factors, one being the weather and two being eye protection. Proper eye wear is essential and critical for anyone who plans on looking up at the eclipse. You should only do so with special solar viewing glasses on at all times which allow you to safety look at the eclipse. Sunglasses, even layering several pairs of them, will not provide adequate protection and don’t even think about using binoculars!
We all know the general rule of thumb which is to never stare at the sun, but during solar eclipses extra special care needs to be taken! Because the sun is partly covered by the moon, people find it easy to look and stare at. They feel the need to blink less and their pupils are also less likely to contract instinctively, like how they otherwise would do on a normal bright day. Instead they may even dilate, allowing infra red light waves into the eyes, which can seriously burn the retina and even fry it.
We’ve all heard the warnings and horror stories about how someone went blind during a solar eclipse and while it may seem far fetched or exaggerated, the risk is real. Gazing directly at the sun’s photosphere, the bright disc, for any amount of time can and will result in damage to our fragile eyes. So please invest in a pair of specially designed eclipse glasses that filter the sun and can easily be found online for cheap. These should be worn for the entire duration of the eclipse, especially for the vast majority of us who are not in the path of totality and who will instead experience a partial solar eclipse. The only real safe time to look directly at the sun without protection is during the fleeting window of totality when it’s completely covered by the moon.
Now that you know more about the August 2017 solar eclipse you can mark your calendar and have something really neat and astronomically cool to look forward to! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience first hand but if you want to view it in the path of totality, plan accordingly because hundreds of thousands of other people are doing exactly that. In the end, it all comes down to being in the right place at the right time.
Be prepared, plan ahead, and be sure to check out the helpful eclipse maps to find out more specific details.
Simulation: Total Solar Eclipse U.S.A. Aug 21st, 2017:
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