Attention skywatchers! On Aug. 21, 2017 the USA will be treated to a total solar eclipse!
What is already being called the "Great American Total Solar Eclipse" will take place this August across the USA, darkening skies from coast to coast. While 2 to 5 solar eclipses occur each year, total solar eclipses only take place every 18 months or so. Plus, this will be the first total solar eclipse to travel from coast to coast in 99 years!
The below graphic shows the eclipse's trajectory know as the "path of totality;" a 70-mile-wide area in which Earth dwellers can view the the total eclipse in all of its glory. The graphic also shows you what the eclipse may look like from outer magnitudes.
As you can see, the Path of Totality spans the breadth of the nation, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. On the way it passes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.
If you don't think you'll be directly under the eclipse's path, don't worry. The phenomenon will still be viewable in other areas of the U.S. as a partial solar eclipse, during which the moon will appear to partially cover the sun's disk.
Those lucky enough to be right in the path of totality will see the moon completely obscure the disk of the sun for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds, while those watching from the outer edges of the path may see the total eclipse for just a few seconds.
Only a sliver of the sun's outer atmosphere, or "corona", will be visible to the naked eye. The daytime sky will be cloaked in a strangely beautiful twilight, and ribbons of ethereal light will be seen emerging from the sun's corona. Some viewers experience the celestial phenomenon as deeply emotional and energetically charged, while others take on a more intellectual fascination.
Data provided by Nasa tells us which major cities will fall under the path of totality, and the starting time of the eclipse in each city:
Location - Eclipse Begins
Madras, OR - 09:06 a.m.
Idaho Falls, ID - 10:15 a.m.
Casper, WY - 10:22 a.m.
Lincoln, NE - 11:37 a.m.
Jefferson City, MO - 11:46 a.m.
Carbondale, IL - 11:52 a.m.
Paducah, KY - 11:54 a.m.
Nashville, TN - 11:58 a.m.
Columbia, SC - 01:03 p.m.
Clayton, GA - 1:06 p.m.
You can also check out Space.com's state-by-state guide to determine which areas of your state may lie within the path of the eclipse.
If you do plan on viewing the eclipse, make sure to wear protective solar viewing glasses, as staring directly at a total or even partial eclipse can be quite dangerous. You can purchase viewing glasses that meet NASA's specifications from one of the following companies: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17. Unfortunately, simply wearing Sunglasses will not protect your eyes!
In case you're thinking, "this all sounds great, but what actually is a solar eclipse?", here's Wikipedia's definition:
"As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse is a type of eclipse that occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks ("occults") the Sun. This can happen only at new moon when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy. In a total eclipse, the disk of the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon. In partial and annular eclipses, only part of the Sun is obscured.
If the Moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be total solar eclipses every month. However, the Moon's orbit is inclined (tilted) at more than 5 degrees to the Earth's orbit around the Sun (see ecliptic), so its shadow at new moon usually misses Earth. Earth's orbit is called the ecliptic plane as the Moon's orbit must cross this plane in order for an eclipse (both solar as well as lunar) to occur. In addition, the Moon's actual orbit is elliptical, often taking it far enough away from Earth that its apparent size is not large enough to block the Sun totally. The orbital planes cross each other at a line of nodes resulting in at least two, and up to five, solar eclipses occurring each year; no more than two of which can be total eclipses. However, total solar eclipses are rare at any particular location because totality exists only along a narrow path on the Earth's surface traced by the Moon's shadow or umbra.
An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. Nevertheless, in some ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses have been attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as bad omens. A total solar eclipse can be frightening to people who are unaware of its astronomical explanation, as the Sun seems to disappear during the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes.
Since looking directly at the Sun can lead to permanent eye damage or blindness, special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques are used when viewing a solar eclipse. It is technically safe to view only the total phase of a total solar eclipse with the unaided eye and without protection; however, this is a dangerous practice, as most people are not trained to recognize the phases of an eclipse, which can span over two hours while the total phase can only last a maximum of 7.5 minutes for any one location. People referred to as eclipse chasers or umbraphiles will travel to remote locations to observe or witness predicted central solar eclipses". -Wikipedia