ICYMI, the first total solar eclipse in the U.S. since 1979 is set to take over the sky on Aug. 21. In fact, it’s the first total solar eclipse in U.S. history, which will cross from coast to coast and be visible only in America. To paraphrase the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal.
Naturally, you probably have a lot of questions about this rare celestial event, so we’ve compiled everything you need to know about the solar eclipse. Because, really, who wants to waste valuable time scouring multiple sources on the internet for answers? Let’s be honest. We all need that time to track down the legit, won’t-burn-your-eyeballs-out solar eclipse glasses we should have ordered a month ago.
Keep reading to get all the pertinent details, including why this is happening and how you can join the millions of other American safely watching this highly anticipated spectacle.
1. Why is the solar eclipse even occurring?
Well, here’s a fun fact: Total solar eclipses are basically great big cosmic coincidences! In order for one to occur, the moon must be the right size to block out the sun in its entirety. Fortunately for us, our moon is. Then the sun, moon and Earth essentially have to synchronize so they are in a straight (or nearly straight) line with the moon positioned between the sun and Earth. For this to occur and be visible here in America, the moon must be in its new moon phase, which puts it in prime position.
2. What can we expect during the 2017 solar eclipse?
The short answer here is that the moon will totally block out the sun. The long answer is that this total eclipse of the sun will leave parts of states in the path of totality in sudden and complete darkness for around two-and-a-half minutes. While the moon moves in front of the sun, you will see a ring of light around the moon called a corona.
3. Where will it be visible?
Good news: Pretty much everywhere in the continental U.S.! Every single U.S. state will see some portion of the sun engulfed by the moon, with the Lower 48 seeing the sun at least 55 percent blocked. However, the 14 states in the path of totality will experience complete darkness. So while the upside is anyone in America can view the eclipse, where you are will determine how much of the eclipse you will see. The eclipse will start near Salem, Oregon, and move along diagonally across the country until it hits South Carolina’s coast. You can plug in your zip code to determine your percentage here, but below is a general outline of what the eclipse will look like across the U.S.
4. When was the last total solar eclipse in the U.S.?
The last time a total solar eclipse was visible anywhere in America was on Feb. 26, 1979 — yep, as in roughly four decades ago. The path of that eclipse differed greatly from the one before us, though, starting in Washington state and traveling east as far as North Dakota before popping up into Canada. The closest our country has come to an eclipse like the one it will experience on Aug. 21 was the very year we declared our independence: 1776. That eclipse was likewise only visible over the U.S. However, it did not cross coast to coast.
5. When is the next total solar eclipse in the U.S.?
Happily, we won’t have to wait another 40 years to enjoy our next total solar eclipse. On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible in the U.S. in states from Texas to New England. If you want to be in an optimal viewing area for that eclipse, plan a trip to Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland or Buffalo — all big American cities situated in the path of totality. And if you happen to reside in southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, or western Kentucky, well, you can sit tight. These areas of the country are in the path of totality for both the 2017 and 2024 solar eclipses.
6. Why is this one so rare?
Not only has it been a hot minute since the U.S. experienced a total solar eclipse — and even longer since we’ve experienced one that was only visible in America — but this marks the first time in our history a visible-only-to-us eclipse has passed from coast to coast. Hooray for everyone in the continental U.S. being able to enjoy such a rare and special celestial gift!
7. Moment of truth: How do I not burn my eyeballs out?
Suffice it to say you need safety glasses to view the solar eclipse without causing any retinal damage. Seriously, don’t take this lightly. Do not view an eclipse without glasses specifically made for this very occasion. You can check out NASA’s recommendations for glasses here, and be careful, because there are a lot of fake eclipse glasses out there so make sure you only buy a pair of authentic, AAS-approved glasses.