“It’s like I had left our solar system and was standing on some alien world looking back at creation.”
[Updated 8/20] On Monday, August 21st a total solar eclipse will sweep a narrow path across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. The path of totality, as it’s called, will be 60 to 70 miles wide—but wherever you live in the US, you will be able to see the moon block at least part of the sun. You’ll also be able to witness the totality remotely.
This may not be your first eclipse—there have been many partials over the years, and nine total eclipses since 1945—but this is the first since 1918 to cross the entire USA. And thanks to the internet, this time around you can find live streams, maps, videos and other aids to help you experience it, even if you’re not in the path of the moon’s shadow.
Why is This Eclipse Special?
A couple of things make this total eclipse a particularly awesome experience. And you don’t have to be an astronomy geek to appreciate it:
- Very little of the earth’s surface normally falls in the path of an eclipse shadow compared to this one. So, this may the best chance we’ll have in our lifetimes to see one. Any given location will only see a total eclipse once in more than 300 years on average.
- If you’re in the path of the total eclipse, the sky will go dark for a few minutes. You will see the sun’s otherwise hidden corona—its wispy outer atmosphere. The temperature will drop, bright stars will appear and birds will start chirping their nighttime songs. Cows may lie down to sleep.
Can weather ruin the viewing experience? There’s always that chance, so hope for a sunny day.
Viewing the Eclipse
The Path of Totality
While you’ll be able to see a partial eclipse wherever you happen to be, if you are curious about the experience of totality, watch this inspiring TEDx talk by an eclipse chaser, and imagine: “It’s like I had left our solar system and was standing on some alien world looking back at creation.” In short, David Baron says, this is something you should see before you die. The next total eclipse will be visible in part of the US on April 8, 2024.
See It From Wherever You Are
Millions of people made reservations long ago to visit the spots in the eclipse’s direct path. In fact, visitors to some small cities are expected to equal half of an entire state’s population. South Carolina, with a population of 4.9 million, is expected to have 1 to 2 million visitors.
But there are plenty of other ways to participate without leaving your hometown.
See the partial eclipse in your location
- Time magazine has created a tool that gives you the exact times the eclipse begins, ends and peaks in your area and a visualization of the sun’s progress. Just type your zip code into this cool interactive tool. Here’s an example of how the tool works:
- NASA has created its own eclipse simulator for anywhere in the world—from the perspective of space. You can see the shadow of the moon on the earth. Spin the globe, then click on a location to see a visualization.
- You can also download the Eclipse2017.org app from Google Play and or Apple’s App Store. It’s free, or $2.99 for the more robust version that uses your phone’s GPS to give you realtime viewing info.
- Libraries in several cities are hosting viewing parties, as are some rooftop locations—restaurants and bars among them. To find an event near you, Google “Eclipse viewing parties + [your city].
Watch the total eclipse live streamed
- NASA TV will be covering the eclipse from the ground and air (including from 57 high altitude balloons and two telescope-outfitted jet planes that will chase the moon’s shadow). You can watch NASA’s live stream of the event as part of a four-hour show from across America; on the day of the event, click here (or bookmark it now) to watch. Many local and national stations will also pick up NASA’s live stream.
- The Total Solar Eclipse app from the hands-on museum Exploratorium has five simultaneous live video streams and live telescope views and lets you move between them. The live telescope view will have “sonification” by the Kronos Quartet. For iOS and Android. You can also watch the streams and views on your computer.
- The website for citizen and professional astronomers Slooh is waiving registration fees this month—you can access webstreams direct from its telescopes. Click here to register (bypass the payment options by clicking on “community”), then here to access its eclipse page.
- The American Astronomical Society has put together a comprehensive list of webcasts, TV and radio programs, webinars and podcasts to enjoy leading up to and during the event.
Other Ways to Experience, Learn About and Participate in the Eclipse
There are many free eclipse apps to download to your smartphone or tablet, along with informative websites and opportunities to citizen scientists:
- Google, with UC Berkley, is creating a megamovie of the eclipse from images created by volunteer photographers located all along the path of totality. You’ll be able to watch the movie in the late afternoon of August 21 by clicking here. If you’re viewing the total eclipse, you can also help by uploading your own photos. Scroll down on this page to learn how. The images will help scientists to better estimate the size of the sun.
- If you want to feel like a NASA scientist for a day, you can participate in a nationwide science experiment with the GLOBE Observer Eclipse app. Whether you’re observing a total or partial eclipse, record and submit cloud and temperature data to the agency using your smartphone and a thermometer to help scientists study the effects of the eclipse on the earth’s atmosphere. For iOS and Android.
Follow on social media
- If you’re a Twitter or Instagram fan, use these hashtags and follow the eclipse watchers’ conversations, videos and and photos: #eclipse, #eclipse2017, #solareclipse and #totalsolaraeclipse
- Both the NASA (iOS and Android) and the NASA TV (iOS only) apps offer live and on-demand programming for your mobile devices and showcase a large amount of space-related content year round.
- Geographer Michael Zeiler has created an entire website devoted to the eclipse, with all the information you might want—and a treasure trove of his beautiful maps.
Eclipse Glasses and Online Scams
Maybe you remember wearing cardboard-framed dark glasses as a child during a partial or total eclipse of the sun. Even during the partial eclipse, when it might feel safe to look at the sun, you can suffer what’s known as eclipse blindness, in which your eye’s retina is damaged by solar radiation.
The only safe way to look directly at the eclipse is through those special-purpose, paper eclipse glasses, welder’s goggles or hand-held solar filters. (Ordinary sunglasses, unfiltered telescopes or cameras, and homemade filters are all unsafe choices.) Click here to read more about eye protection on NASA’s resource page.
Recent reports tell of of fake eclipse glasses flooding the market. Eclipse glasses or solar filters should display the ISO logo (International Standard for Organization) and a statement attesting to their ISO safety compliance. The AAS has created this list of reputable brands and vendors, which includes 12 brands, 13 retailers, plus online astronomy, science and optics vendor links to shop at. Eclipse glasses cost about $2.00 and you may want to order now.
For More Information
- Read additional NASA safety guidelines (Scroll down below the eye safety section for more.)
- See a list of nationwide viewing parties and events
- Visit NASA’s 2017 eclipse website
- Visit the American Astronomical Society eclipse website