Usually as spring approaches, I start dreaming about lazy summer days, looking forward to fun in the sun. This year, however, I think I may be getting more and more excited about late summer because—if you haven’t heard—there’s going to be a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. What’s a total solar eclipse, you might ask?
Well, when the Moon lines up just right in between the Earth and the Sun, the Sun’s light gets blotted out by the Moon, which can be observed along a narrow path across the Earth’s surface. According to space.com, normally the Moon can’t block out the Sun because the Sun is so humongous in comparison to the Moon, but because the Moon is so much closer to the Earth than the Sun is, under these certain conditions—like when a total solar eclipse occurs—the little Moon is able to completely block out the gigantic Sun.
So, where will you be able to see this year’s total solar eclipse of the Sun by the Moon? If you’re in the United States, it will pass from the west coast to the east coast through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A few other areas close to America will be able to see it as a partial eclipse. (A partial eclipse is one where the moon only partly covers the sun, which looks something like taking a bite out of it and the light will dim.)
If you happen to be somewhere along the path of totality at the time of the August 21st total solar eclipse, you should be able to observe the Moon completely cover the Sun, leaving only the Sun’s corona—that area of gases that surrounds the Sun—visible for a short duration. Some other terms you might hear tossed about are umbra, penumbra, and new moon.
Umbra means “shadow” in Latin; if you are in the umbra when the total solar eclipse happens, you will be in the path of darkest shadow where the moon will completely and totally black out the sun. This pathway is also called the path of totality. Penumbra is Latin for “almost” and if you are in the penumbra during the eclipse on August 21st, you will experience it as a partial solar eclipse with the moon only partially covering the sun. The sky will still darken, but the moon will not completely block out the sun in its entirety. And you may start to hear about new moons because solar eclipses like this one can only occur during a new moon. A new moon is one of the eight phases that the moon goes through every month; it is when the Sun shines on the side of the moon facing away from Earth so that it is not illuminated in the sky (like, say, the full moon phase is).
If you’re going to watch the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, be sure to do so safely! Do not even think about looking up gazing through your regular old sunglasses … remember how your mom warned you never to look directly at the sun? Well, it’s true—looking directly into the sun can cause permanent eye damage. Hence, you should only watch the solar eclipse using an approved solar filter. The methods I’ve heard of are: specially made eclipse glasses, using specially designed filters for cameras, telescopes and binoculars, or through a pinhole projector. Mr. Eclipse also has a great page explaining how to go about observing the total solar eclipse a little more thoroughly than I’ve mentioned.
Lastly, remember to check the weather forecast a couple of days in advance. It would really be a bummer if the place I plan to observe the eclipse from turns out to have clouds in the forecast all day long. Hopefully, I will be able to get myself to a (mostly) sunny location!
I hope August 21st will be a cloudless day for you, too! :)