Your guide to the total solar eclipse

Total solar eclipses are always a big deal 

The biggest and best solar eclipse in American history is coming soon to a sky near you. 

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast. It will be the first total eclipse visible only in the USA since the country's founding in 1776.

Here's everything you need to know about the spectacular event:

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. The moon appears to completely cover the disk of the sun. By blocking the sun's light, the moon casts a shadow that turns day into an eerie twilight here on Earth. Eclipses occur because of the special coincidence of the moon and the sun being the same size to our eyes. The sun is 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther away, so they appear to be the same size in the sky.

Why is this called the "Great American Eclipse?"

This is the first total solar eclipse that's only visible in the U.S. and no other country. It will be the first total eclipse visible only in the USA since the country was founded in 1776. 

Why is the total solar eclipse only visible in the U.S.?

Eclipses are only visible in parts of the world at any given time. This one just happens to be in the U.S. A total solar eclipse is coming on August 21, and even if you’re not astronomically blessed enough to be in its path, you won’t be left in the dark.

What time is the solar eclipse?

It depends on where you live. The eclipse will start on the West Coast in Oregon and trace a 67-mile wide path east across the country, finally exiting the East Coast in South Carolina. The total eclipse begins in Oregon at 10:16 a.m. PDT. (To be the first person on land to see the eclipse, be on the waterfront at Government Point, Ore., at 10:15:56.5 a.m. PDT.) The total eclipse will end near Charleston, S.C., at 2:48 p.m. EDT.

How long will the solar eclipse last?  

At any given location, the total eclipse will last for around 2 or 3 minutes. But from the beginning of the eclipse in Oregon to the end of the eclipse in South Carolina, the eclipse will last about an hour and a half. 

Where is the "path of totality?"

The path, in which the moon's shadow sweeps across the Earth's surface, will cross parts of 12 states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The biggest cities directly in the path include Nashville, and Columbia and Charleston in South Carolina. Both Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., are just outside the path.

 

Will the eclipse be visible in Texas?

Texas is not in the "path of totality," but we'll still get a chance to see a partial eclipse, when only a part of the sun is blocked by the moon. A partial eclipse will be visible in all of North America, parts of South America, western Europe and Africa. While a partial eclipse is still cool, you won’t notice your surroundings getting dark.

 

How far would I have to go to see the total eclipse?

Tennessee and Missouri are the closest states to Texas to see the total eclipse. Nashville is the largest city that will go completely dark. It's about a 12-hour drive from Houston. Several communities in the path of the eclipse have special events planned.  

Where are the top spots to see the total eclipse?

If you're planning at trip to see the total eclipse, it's best to be flexible because weather will play a key role in getting a good view. The Western part of the U.S. usually has the best chance for clear skies. Southern Illinois is where the eclipse will last the longest. Here are some other cool spots to watch (weather depending), according to the website GreatAmericanEclipse.com: Click here for a list of the top 10 spots.

How many people will be able see the total eclipse?

An estimated 12 million people live within the path of totality. The number of people within just one day's drive of the totality zone is around 200 million.

What will I see during a total solar eclipse?

During a total solar eclipse, the disk of the moon blocks out the last sliver of light from the sun, and the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. The corona isn't an indistinct haze; skywatchers report seeing great jets and ribbons of light, twisting and curling out into the sky.

How can you look at the solar eclipse?

The only moment it's safe to look at the eclipse is during the 2-3 minutes when the sun is completely behind the moon. Before and after that — during the partial eclipse — special eclipse glasses, or welder's goggles, must be worn. That's because the sun’s surface is so bright that if you stare at any portion of it, no matter how small, it produces enough light to permanently damage your retina. Our eyes never evolved to look at the sun without suffering severe damage. Regular sunglasses are also not safe to use.

 

Can you take a photo of the eclipse with your smartphone?

Yes, but the quality may be rather poor, as smartphones were never designed for sun and moon photography. The best thing to do is to cover the camera lens with a solar filter during the moments before (and after) the total eclipse when the sunlight is still blinding. Though it may be OK for a few moments, it's not wise to point your smartphone camera at the brilliant, un-eclipsed sun for an extended period of time without putting a filter over the lens. A telephoto lens system is absolutely a must-have for quality eclipse photography with a smartphone. Most of the best shots you'll see related of the eclipse will be taken with professional digital cameras on tripods, or shot through a telescope.

What will happen during the total eclipse?

Plants and animals act as though night is falling, as flowers close up and birds return to roost. The temperature can drop 10 degrees or more. 

How "fast" is the eclipse?

The average speed of the moon's shadow as it crosses the U.S. is nearly 1,700 mph. That's over two times faster than a supersonic jet. 

Could this be the most-viewed eclipse ever?

Astronomy magazine says yes, basing this proclamation on four factors: 1) The attention it will get from the media; 2) The superb coverage of the highway system in our country; 3) The typical weather on that date; and 4) The vast number of people who will have access to it from nearby large cities.

When is the next solar eclipse?

The next total solar eclipse here in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, which will be visible from Texas to New England. More total eclipses in the U.S. will follow in 2044, 2045 and 2078. In other parts of the world, the next total solar eclipse will be visible in Chile and Argentina on July 2, 2019.

When was the most recent total solar eclipse?

In the U.S., it was on Feb. 26, 1979, in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, a day in which the weather was unfortunately "bleak." The August eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse that will be visible from coast to coast since June 1918. Elsewhere, the most recent total solar eclipse was in Indonesia on March 9, 2016

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