The Great American Total Eclipse: August 21, 2017

August 21 will mark a rare event for North America: a total solar eclipse. This celestial event, billed as the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse,” will be visible from most of the continent.  The longest period when the moon completely blocks the sun from any given location along the path will be about two minutes and 40 seconds.  The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979; the next one will be on April 8, 2024.

The path of the sun, or “path of totality,” will cross over 14 states and offer several prime viewing areas. Eclipses are marked by twilight darkening, lowered temperatures and streaks of light around the moon. Pets, as well as wild animals and birds, have been known to cease activity or go silent during these events, perhaps temporarily confused into thinking that night has fallen. Recently, NPR waxed poetic about this: “If you’ve never witnessed a total solar eclipse, this is an experience not to be missed. There’s something deeply moving about watching the sun become progressively covered by the moon until, at totality, the sky goes dark, and a blast of light from the corona surrounds the black disk of the moon. If the skies are clear, you can see Mercury, Venus and stars shining, as day turns to night for a brief few minutes and the temperature drops.”

According to the NASA website: “The lunar shadow enters the United States near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 9:05 a.m. PDT. Totality begins in the United States in Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:16 a.m. PDT. The total eclipse will end in Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. EDT. The lunar shadow leaves the United States at 4:09 p.m. EDT. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout the United States.”

Viewers north or south of the path will see a small rim of the sun and not experience total darkness. For this reason, eclipse glasses or other protective measures are recommended for anyone not directly in the 70 mile wide band of totality. It’s worth a little planning ahead to make sure you and your family are in the right place at the right time, and with the right equipment. Sites such as Big Kid Science, an educational company founded by astrophysicist Jeffrey Bennett, has created Totality, a free app to help people plan for the eclipse.