On Monday, Aug. 21, the moon will completely eclipse the sun, and millions of people all across the U.S. will get to watch. This will be the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years.
An eclipse is when the moon covers the sun in its path across the sky. A total eclipse is when three key conditions that rarely occur happen all at the same time: (1) There has to be a new moon, (2) the moon has to cross the plane of Earth’s orbit, and (3) the moon, which travels in an ellipse around the Earth, has to be near its closest approach to Earth.
Thousands of people, if not millions, will travel from near and far to park themselves in the path of totality from the Oregon coast across the center of that state and then through Idaho, Nebraska, the northeast corner of Kansas, Missouri, contiguous border parts of Illinois and
Kentucky, across Tennessee, and a corner of Georgia before exiting the U.S. mainland at the central South Carolina coast near Charleston. Ground zero for the 10:16 a.m. PDT start of the eclipse is Lincoln Beach, Oregon.
Once the eclipse begins, a total eclipse will be visible somewhere in the lower 48 states for the next hour and 33 minutes. People in parts of the U.S. last saw a total eclipse in 1979 so this watch party is expected to be a big deal. A partial solar eclipse will be visible everywhere in the U.S. and that includes California.
Whether in the eclipse’s path or watching a partial eclipse from Three Rivers, viewers will need eye protection to look directly at it. During a partial solar eclipse, such as will be experienced here, viewers looking down will see the shadows form eerie crescent shapes.
The only time it is safe to see the eclipse with the naked eye is during “totality” — when the moon completely blocks the sun. And sunglasses won’t cut it. Those crazy-looking eclipse glasses are thousands of times darker than real glasses.
Even a tiny crescent of sun can cause a crescent-shaped burn on the retina. Experts insist that the glasses are mandatory — but beware of scammers. And be careful not to take a bunch of short glances without eye protection. These glimpses are cumulative and add up to eye damage as well.
Don’t despair if you miss the eclipse. NASA is live-streaming this one and there will be tons of highlights.
The next solar eclipse over the United States will be in 2024. After that? 2045.
The 2024 event will cut a totality swath from Texas to Maine, similar in size to this upcoming one but in a different direction.