What is a total solar eclipse?
Essentially, it's when the moon moves right in front of the sun, covering it completely for a very short time. It darkens the whole sky, lets you look right at the sun (only when it's completely covered, though - you must use special solar viewing glasses (also known as "eclipse glasses") whenever the sun isn't completely eclipsed), and shows you the beautiful corona that surrounds the sun. Stars come out, the horizon glows with a 360-degree sunset, the temperature drops, and day turns into night. It's one of the most beautiful things you can ever see on earth.
these pretty common?
Well, one happens about every year or every other year, somewhere on earth. However, you have to be situated in a very narrow strip of land (called the 'path of totality') if you want to see the total phase of the eclipse. Otherwise, all you see (with your eclipse glasses, of course!) is a pretty boring partial eclipse. And that strip of land is generally VERY far off the beaten path - like Mongolia, or the Sahara desert, or the ocean somewhere. Very few people (as a percentage of the overall population) have ever seen a total solar eclipse.
Wasn't there just an eclipse of the sun in the USA not too many years ago?
The only total eclipses that have happened in the last 40 years in the US were in 1979 (in the northwest part of the country only) and 1991 (Hawaii only). Anything else you saw was only a partial (and there have been lots of these, like on Christmas Day 2000) or an annular eclipse (such as the one on May 10, 1994). Those are NOTHING compared to the absolutely amazing spectacle of a total eclipse!!!
I'm sure we saw an eclipse when I was a kid. We made pinhole viewers, and it was interesting - but not like what you're saying at all.
That's because what you saw was a PARTIAL (or maybe an ANNULAR) eclipse. You absolutely have to use eye protection to watch these types of eclipses, and you're right - it's not very exciting. But a TOTAL eclipse is something that cannot be described. If you go, then you will know....
OK, so where do I need to be to watch it?
For the 2017 eclipse, there is a strip of land about 70 miles wide or so (called the 'path of totality') that stretches from central Oregon through South Carolina. There are maps on www.eclipse2017.org that will show you exactly where you need to be, to be in the path of totality and therefore to see the total eclipse. Go to the site, and look at the maps there. That will tell you where you need to be.
When will it happen?
That’s a long time from now.
We know, but you can never start planning too early for these things. Total eclipses happen about once a year, somewhere on earth, but they're usually in very out-of-the-way places. There are groups of die-hard eclipse chasers who think these are so beautiful, they travel to the far corners of the earth to see them. Their planning begins years in advance, and usually entails difficult travel to the remotest parts of the earth. For the 2017 eclipse, we get to see one right smack dab in the middle of good old American soil! Check on www.eclipse2017.org for the actual times of totality from your location.
What cities are in the path?
Lots. There is a complete listing on eclipse2017.org, but here are some of the bigger ones: Salem OR, Ontario OR, Rexburg ID, Grand Teton NP, Jackson Hole, Casper, North Platte, Lincoln (barely!), Leavenworth, the north side of Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia MO, the south side of St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Carbondale IL, Paducah KY, Bowling Green KY (barely!), Nashville, Cleveland TN (barely!), Smokey Mtns NP (only the southern part), Greenville, Columbia SC, and Charleston (barely!).
What cities are close, but not actually IN the path?
A better question. You will NOT see totality from any of these places, though they are very close to the path (Move into the path, and see totality!):
Bend OR, Portland OR, Boise, Yellowstone NP, Cheyenne, Salt Lake, Denver, Ogallala, Omaha, Topeka, the south side of Kansas City, the north side of St. Louis, Louisville, Evansville IN, Murray KY, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Des Moines, Atlanta, Augusta GA, Charlotte, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach. Any other big cities you might consider are not even close to the path!
IN ALL THESE CITIES, YOU MUST ALWAYS USE EYE PROTECTION TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE!
How do you know that far in advance where the eclipse is going to be visible?
A lot of math. No, seriously, astronomers do know the equations that model the motions of the earth and moon extraordinarily accurately. Eclipse predicting has been around for thousands of years, but with the computers we have now, those predictions are actually very simple and VERY accurate. We can predict eclipses thousands of years from now with astounding accuracy - in fact, the only thing that prevents our long-range predictions from being perfect is that we don't know exactly how much longer the day will get as the earth's spin gradually slows down over thousands and thousands of years! Just little things like that...
What time will the eclipse happen in _______?
We get this question a lot. All you have to do to find out is to visit Xavier Jubier's wonderful interactive Google map. (This link will take you to our page of instructions on how to use it.) Also, be sure to visit our Community Pages and find your city (if it's in the path)! We'll be listing all the information we can find on those pages.
I’m really close to the path of totality. Won’t I see anything cool where I am?
NO!!! You have to be IN the path of totality, or all you'll see (with your solar viewers, of course) is a partial eclipse! Those are pretty common, and are absolutely nothing to see, compared with the beauty of totality. If you get nothing from this at all, please get this: you MUST be IN the path of totality to experience the glory of a total eclipse! If where you are is not in the path of totality, then move yourself into it on eclipse day, and you will come away understanding what we were talking about! Miss it, and you'll miss everything; you'll have no idea what all the people who WERE in the path are raving about the day after, and you will have missed it! The pictures you'll see in the newspaper and on TV will be NOTHING compared to the experience of having been there! Do NOT miss out!
Please see the response we wrote to an editor
whose city is "close" to the path. Please get yourself INTO the path!
I have to drive a long way to be in the path. Why
should I go to all that trouble?
If you go, you will understand. It is simply the most unbelievable thing you can ever experience in your life. If you stay home, then nothing we can say will convince you that you should've gone. Please trust someone who's seen eleven of these, on all continents - don't miss it!
I live in the path! Can I watch it from my house?
Absolutely!! You are incredibly lucky, and you should invite lots of friends over. Please see our viewing tips, and get enough pairs of eclipse glasses for all the people you'll invite to experience it with you. (An eclipse is even better if shared with a few hundred of your closest friends!)
I'm not in the path. Where exactly should I go to watch it?
At www.eclipse2017.org, we will have the locations of all the official viewing areas that have been set up by the local communities in the path. Hopefully there will be a lot of these, and they will be set up with security and eclipse viewing glasses so you can safely enjoy the event.
So a lot of people will show up for this?
You bet. There are literally thousands of people from all over the world who chase these things, every eclipse, no matter where. They go to the deserts of Mongolia, to cruise ships in the South Pacific, to remote areas of Indonesia, Angola, Australia, and even the Antarctic to catch a fleeting glimpse of the eclipsed sun. And we get to see this one right in our back yards. You can expect there to be thousands of people from near and far who will converge on the USA for this amazing spectacle.
Can I bring my kids? They’ll be in school that day!
Get them out of school. The school will probably not let them watch it anyway, due to liability concerns, and you as their parent are their first and best teacher. Get yourself out of work, and get them out of school. Get to the path, make a long weekend of it, and go see something together that they will tell their grandchildren about. We're talking World Series, Super Bowl, Moon Landing type stuff here. They will remember it for the rest of their lives, and you will be their supreme hero for having shown them that something this beautiful exists on the earth we all share. Even with kids who have been completely desensitized by video games, a total eclipse will make them say "Whoa", and mean it!
Maybe they’ll watch the eclipse at school.
Don't count on it. While schools are fantastic for giving lesson plans and teaching the mechanics of eclipses, it is an unfortunate truth that schools have to be completely focused on liability these days. They simply can't allow kids to watch these types of phenomena, because of the off chance that one kid will stare at the sun without filters and blind himself.
This bears emphasizing: Based on ACTUAL experiences we have heard FIRSTHAND, from folks in FIRST-WORLD COUNTRIES, your kids are more likely during the eclipse to be huddled in the school's basement, facing the walls farthest away from the Sun, with the blinds and their eyes tightly shut, cowering in fear of the eclipse while the teachers threaten them not to move - than they are to be educated, provided proper materials to view the eclipse with, and treated to the experience of their lifetimes. (We truly wish we were kidding.)
No, YOU are your children's first and best teacher, so get them out of school, get them a pair of solar viewing glasses for a buck or so, and get them and yourself to the path. You'll understand why after it's over. They can report to their class afterwards, and try to explain how cool it was to all the kids whose parents didn't take them. They won't be able to.
Can I bring my pets?
NO! Animals will be scared senseless by the eclipse, and you will want to be enjoying it instead of trying to calm your crazed critters. Everyone around you will not want to be bothered by your animals either, so please leave them at home. Again, you have to take the word of people who have seen many of these - the dogs and cats will NOT like it! In fact, you'll find that, even though you understand 100% what is going on, you'll still feel a little of the fear that prehistoric people must have felt in seeing the sun get swallowed up as day turns into night. Please don't subject your trusting pets to that fear!
Can't I just drive to somewhere in the path, get out and watch it wherever I end up?
Technically, you'll be able to see totality from anywhere in the path. The closer you are to the center of the path, the longer totality will be for you. If this is your first eclipse, it would be a good plan to try and get as close to that centerline as possible. However, you should also be respectful of where you choose to set up.The side of the road is not good from a safety standpoint, and people's yards and parking lots belong to them! Rest areas may be very crowded, but parks and other open public areas are wonderful. Eclipse2017.org will keep a listing of all known official viewing areas, so visit early and visit often to keep up to date with the best location for you!
But how do I look at the sun without going blind?
This is a biggie. You CANNOT look at the sun while ANY PART of its bright disk is still visible. The moon does cover quite a bit of it during the partial phases leading up to totality, but you HAVE to use special solar viewing glasses (also called "eclipse glasses") to look at it during the partial phases. You MUST use these glasses to look at the sun during this time, and if you use them correctly (according to the instructions printed on them), it's 100% safe. During the brief period of totality ONLY, when NO bright part of the sun is showing, you can look directly at the totally eclipsed sun without any kind of filters, and you will not believe the sight. In fact, during totality ONLY, you can even look with binoculars if you want. The view is simply stunning. BUT, IMMEDIATELY after totality, (as soon as you see the really bright diamond ring effect again, when the bright part of the sun returns to view), the glasses have to come back on. To repeat: You MUST use the eclipse glasses whenever the sun is not TOTALLY eclipsed - whenever ANY bright piece of it is visible. No matter what "eclipse times" you may get off the internet, or out of any books or magazines. And you CAN look directly at the sun without the glasses ONLY during the very brief time when the sun is in total eclipse (that is, if you're in the path of totality!). It's only a minute or two at the most, but the memory of it will last your lifetime. If you're not in the path of totality, you have to use the glasses for the ENTIRE eclipse, and you will not see any of the cool things during totality that will amaze you. You might as well stay at work, see the pictures in the paper the next day, and go away wondering what all the fuss was about.
How do I take pictures of the eclipse?
Unless you have special solar filters for your camera and telescope, you can't even set up for pictures like this - the heat of the sun will melt your lenses (not to mention your eyes)! If you want to pull out a point and shoot during totality, be advised that your pictures will NOT be any good. First of all, you need a huge telephoto lens to take pictures of something the size of the sun. If you don't believe us, go out and take a picture of the full moon the next time you see one. It's about the same size as the sun, and it will show you the kind of results you'll get. Leave picture-taking to the astronomers and the folks with filters and huge telephoto lenses, and simply enjoy the view with your eyes. Whatever you do, do NOT use any type of flash! Not only will you not get pictures that are any good (see above), but you'll ruin the experience of the eclipse for everyone around you when your flash goes off! Put the camera up, and watch the thing! No picture ever did justice to a total eclipse anyway!
So a telescope is out, too?
Yup, unless you have a special solar filter that fits over the end of the scope (not at the eyepiece!), AND you know how to use it! Those are about $200 each, so you should know whether you have one or not! Ditto for binoculars - if you bring them, you can ONLY use them during the brief period of totality. You cannot look directly at the sun in any way at all, if any bright piece of it is visible! You may see professionals at the viewing areas who do have the right setup - some will even have their scopes hooked up to TV monitors. ASK NICELY, and they will probably let you grab a peek. Be careful to keep your kids clear of their stuff, though! :-)
What if it’s cloudy that day?
Eclipse chasers don't like to use the C-word, but they do have to consider the possibility, of course. If it's cloudy, you won't see anything - simple as that. So what veteran eclipse chasers do is to plan for a viewing location that historically has given signs of having as few clouds as possible on eclipse day. But we're still subject to the whims of weather, and so mobility on eclipse day is very important. It's not unusual for die-hard eclipse chasers to keep airplanes on standby, in case they have to make a last-minute run for it to escape clouds! With mobility as easy as it is in the USA, though, we should be able to look at forecasts a day or two before, and move accordingly to try and get into a path location that promises to be cloud-free. Remember that most eclipse chasers think nothing of going into the remotest parts of the world - a little diversion such as having to relocate to Wyoming from North Carolina is NOTHING compared to the wonder of seeing a total eclipse! Again, after you see it, you will understand why.
Can’t I just watch the whole thing on TV?
Uh huh, you can - the same way you can watch a wonderful meal being eaten on TV, a live shot of a huge pile of hundred-dollar bills on TV, or a guy having a great date with a wonderful woman - on TV. It's not the same as being there by a long shot! You cannot rely on any picture in any newspaper or on any TV as being ANYTHING even remotely equivalent to the experience of having been there and seen the eclipse yourself. So if you think that watching on TV is a good enough substitute, again you'll find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about the next day from those people who were there. Please don't be left out. Watch the pictures on TV only enough to laugh at how lame they are compared to your memory of having seen the real thing!
After the eclipse - then what?
You will be asking yourself within about a half a second when the next one is. And the answer to that is that there isn't another one on land until 2019 (in southern Argentina and Chile ONLY). After that, the next "easy" one is again in the USA (as well as Mexico), in 2024. But why wait that long? Get to this one, and see it while you can!
Seriously - why all the excitement over an eclipse?
If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand. If you already understand, nothing I can say will matter. It's like having kids, or riding a Harley, or being in love. It just is - and you just have to believe.
Where do I go for more information?
You're already there! www.eclipse2017.org