All I really, really, really want to see is a total eclipse of the sun.
Like this lyric in the same-titled song by Einsturzende Neubauten, everyone in the U.S., and in North and parts of South America, Africa and Europe, is going to get that chance on August 21. This awe-inspiring cosmic event will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous U.S. since 1979 and the first one coast to coast since 1918. The Great American Eclipse (which even has its own website) has captured the fascination and imagination of celestial celebrants here and around the globe, causing a sensation on Twitter and other social – and mainstream – media. Even if you aren’t in the path of totality (arcing from Oregon to South Carolina), you’ll see a partial eclipse.
What makes this eclipse such a big deal? The key word is total. When the moon passes in front of the sun on Tuesday, the two will be in perfect alignment. And for a couple of brief minutes, the day turns into twilight or total darkness as the moon totally blocks all but the atmosphere, or corona, around the sun.
Unless you’re asleep, it’s going to be hard to miss, not that you’d want to. NASA will be live-streaming the event from across – and well above (as in the International Space Station) – the country. The total eclipse will take about four hours. If you plan on watching with your own eyes, you literally could be blinded by the light and not even realize it until it’s too late, so it’s a must to wear protective eclipse glasses to prevent damaging ultra-violet (UV) rays from burning your retinas. Here’s what NASA recommends:
“When watching a partial eclipse, you must wear eclipse glasses at all times if you want to face the sun, or use an alternate indirect method. This also applies during a total eclipse up until the time when the sun is completely and totally blocked. During the short time when the moon completely obscures the sun – known as the period of totality – it is safe to look directly at the star, but it’s crucial that you know when to take off and put back on your glasses.”
Make sure you get glasses that are safe for directly viewing the sun. Your regular sunglasses are NOT enough to protect your eyes during a solar eclipse. Check this list from the American Astronomical Society of Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers. Any eclipse products should indicate they are compliant with ISO 12312-2. The ISO logo will be on the glasses or on the box they come in. There are a lot of non-compliant glasses out there, so buyer beware.
Speaking of protection from UV rays, is your home safe from the sun? Solar and exterior solar shades on your windows can help reduce the sun’s glare and prevent furniture, carpeting and more from fading.
Here are some other fun facts and tips for enjoying The Great American Eclipse next week:
The New York Times has a great page with tips on everything eclipse 2017, from how-to-watch safety do’s and don’ts, to how to be a citizen scientist.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Postal Service released a first-of-its-kind stamp to commemorate the occasion. Touch the stamp with your finger and watch as the blacked-out sun turns into the moon. The trick? Find out here.
Create your own eclipse-inspired playlist to listen to while you watch. Just Google “eclipse playlist” for a variety of celestial selections to suit any musical taste.
If you get a little hungry while you’re watching and you’re lucky enough to have a Krispy Kreme nearby, get a first-time-ever chocolate glazed doughnut in honor of the eclipse.
If you’re planning on driving for a better view of the eclipse (an estimated 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the path of totality), better start packing now. While eclipses are no longer believed to be harbingers of doom, it is expected to be a traffic apocalypse. And most hotels directly in the eclipse’s path have been sold out for years.
Another fact that makes this total eclipse more significant is that in a few hundreds of millions of years, the moon will have moved too far away from the Earth to ever again completely cover the sun. In other words, total eclipses are destined to become history. But we still have time. Mark your calendar for the next total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, which will be visible from Texas to Maine.
Have fun and see you on the dark side of the moon!