Science, Now + Beyond

If you want to watch the total solar eclipse, you absolutely need to know this

It's the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years.

When you go outside on August 21st, you might be surprised when a darkness eclipses over your sunny day. Don’t be alarmed! 

Scientists have known this was going to happen since the last occurrence in 1979 and they’ve been preparing for it ever since. It’s known as a total solar eclipse, and you’re not going to want to miss it. 

So, what is a total solar eclipse, anyway?

About every 18 months, the moon and the sun align until the moon appears to completely cover the sun, known as a solar eclipse. Because of its close proximity to the Earth – only 239,000 miles away – the moon looks like it’s the same size as the sun, even though there is no comparison between the two.

During a total solar eclipse, the moon completely covers the sun from our view. 

If you’re watching, you’ll witness a cloak of darkness passing across the landscape before the moon continues on its path. The shadow created by the moon can only be viewed from a limited area, known as the path of totality. Everyone inside the path of totality will be able to see the atmosphere around the sun, the corona, as a glowing halo spouting ribbons of light.

Outside the path of totality, you’ll experience a partial solar eclipse. 

This means that the moon only partially covers the disk of the sun without any of its awesome effects. Partial solar eclipses are more frequent than total solar eclipses, so this total solar eclipse is especially rare.

 It’s the first time the path of totality will exclusively pass through the United States from coast to coast since June 8, 1918 – so you definitely don’t want to be left out!

Who can see it?

Everyone from North America to parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. The United States will have a complete view of totality in 14 states, while other parts of the world will only receive a glimpse at a partial solar eclipse.

Where can you see it?

It’s being called the Great American Total Solar Eclipse because of the 70-mile path of totality crossing from West to East. The first point of contact will be Lincoln Beach, Oregon, at 9:05 am PDT. Totality begins between 10:16 and 10:27 am as it travels across the state.

The route it takes after will pass through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, finishing with South Carolina. 

In just 94 minutes, the moon’s shadow will cover almost 2,500 miles.

When can you see it?

Times depend on your location, as well as the duration of the eclipse. The longest it will last for observers inside the path of totality will be, at most, 2 minutes and 40 seconds. 

Unfortunately, everyone else on the outskirts may only experience totality for a few seconds.

Below is a chart of times for cities that lie in the path of totality.

How can you watch it?

Looking at the eclipse is still the same as looking at the sun: you never want to stare at it directly or it could severely damage your eyes. 

For this reason, NASA encourages the use of solar viewing glasses, but viewers should note that sunglasses should not be used as an alternative. Other safety tips and instructions can be found here.

There hasn’t been an eclipse like this for 38 years and you shouldn’t expect another one until 2024 — and the path of totality will be different than this one. People from all over the globe will be traveling to catch a glimpse of this historic day. 

Keep in mind that, with the population set to double in those areas, so will the traffic. Make sure to plan accordingly if you will be traveling as most of the hotels have been booked for years in advance. 

Here’s to the event of a lifetime!