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By now you have probably heard that a total solar eclipse will occur over North America on August 21, 2017. That means you still have a few weeks to get ready to participate in this exciting event! What are eclipses? Why do they happen? When was the last one? When is the next one? Where can I see it? How can I look at it? Why is this a big deal? All good questions! In this Total Solar Eclipse 101, we will be talking about everything you need to know to get the most out of this infrequent occurrence.
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and blocks all or parts of the sun. A partial eclipse is when the moon only covers part of the sun, and a total eclipse is when the moon completely blocks the sun.
Why do eclipses happen?
Both solar and lunar eclipses happen when the sun, moon and Earth periodically align just right. You might think eclipses would occur every month since celestial orbits are predictable. However, due to the moon’s position with regard to the Earth’s tilt, eclipses only occur when the orbital planes of the earth and moon intersect.
There are four types of eclipses:
- Total Eclipse–when the moon totally blocks the sun
- Partial Eclipse–when the moon passes in front of the sun, but is off center in alignment, so the sun is only partially blocked
- Annular Eclipse–when the moon is directly aligned with the sun, but due to its orbit does not appear large enough to cover the sun fully. This is also known as a “ring of fire” eclipse because the sun’s rays peek out from behind the moon, forming a fiery ring in the sky.
- Hybrid Eclipse–a combination of annular and total eclipses. This occurs when an eclipse starts out as one kind and finishes as a different kind.
When was the last total solar eclipse in North America?
It’s been 38 years! The last total solar eclipse visible from the United States was on February 26, 1979. Fun facts: Jimmy Carter was the President, gas was $.86 a gallon, the stock market was at 821, and Le Freak by Chic was the most popular song. 🙂
When is the next one if I miss this one?
If you skip this one, the next total solar eclipse will be on April 8, 2024. It is predicted to track from Texas to Maine. Since the year 1503, there have only been 15 total solar eclipses that have followed the path the one in August is expected to take. So clearly, these are not common occurrences and you should take advantage of every one that comes around. Especially if you live near Fort Morgan, Colorado, or Lewellen, Nebraska. You really need to get outside for this one because these two places haven’t seen a total solar eclipse in over 1000 years!
Where can I see the eclipse?
According to NASA’s website, the eclipse will be most visible in the following locations and at the following times:
10:17 am Corvallis, Albany, and Lebanon, Oregon
11:34 am Idaho Falls, Idaho
11:44 am Casper, Wyoming
1:00 pm Grand Island, Lincoln Nebraska
1:08 pm St Joseph, Missouri
1:09 pm Kansas City, Missouri
1:14 pm Columbia, Jefferson City, Missouri
1:18 pm St Louis, Missouri
1:28 pm Bowling Green, Kentucky
1:28 pm Nashville, Tennessee
2:39 pm Greenville, South Carolina
2:43 pm Columbia, South Carolina
From NASA’s website, here is a chart showing times when the eclipse will begin in various parts of the country along the path. It also shows when “totality” begins and ends, which is the time in which the sun will be completely blocked. As you can see, totality only lasts a few minutes.
You can check out NASA’s interactive eclipse map, as well as instructions on how to use it. Also, if you are not in the path of the eclipse but want to watch it, NASA will be live streaming the whole thing!
How do I view the eclipse?
The safest way to view a solar eclipse is through eclipse glasses . Since these are your eyes we’re talking about here, don’t skimp on glasses that may not meet safety standards. You don’t want to be buying these from a guy selling them out of the back of his trunk the day of. 🙂 According to NASA, only three manufacturers have proven that their products meet international safety standards–Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, and Thousand Oaks Optical. Thousand Oaks Optical also offers professional grade solar filters for use with cameras if you wish to photograph the eclipse. Demand for viewing glasses and solar filters is growing by the day as the date of the eclipse approaches, so you will want to get everything you need as soon as possible.
If you participate in all the eclipse viewing fun, you really need a t-shirt to commemorate the event! Because without a t-shirt, it didn’t happen. 🙂
Why is all of this a big deal?
Eclipses are cool and fairly infrequent, and total solar eclipses are rarer still. So get outside and participate!
If you want to really geek out or just learn more, be sure to check out NASA’s eclipse website. It is full of fascinating information.
Do you plan to try to view the upcoming eclipse? Let me know in the comments! Also, feel free to share any tips you have.
And don’t forget to check out Pinterest!