On August 21, the United States will be witness to an event that hasn’t happened in 99 years, a total solar eclipse that will span across the entire North America!
“An eclipse was never on my list of things to do, but after seeing two of them, it should be on everyone’s bucket list,” says Dr. Michelle Thaller, NASA Astronomer and Deputy Director of Science Communication. “When you see the sun being covered up by the moon and these little balls in space line up, it doesn’t look like a sky from this planet. It looks like something that you shouldn’t be seeing. It really gets you and it gives you a little kink in your brain in the very best way.”
Anyone within the path of the total eclipse, about a 50- to 90-mile wide strip stretching from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, will see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen. But what if you don’t live along that path? Never fear, observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.
So, why is this such a big deal?
A total solar eclipse presents a rare opportunity to observe the corona and chromosphere, the two outer most layers of the sun’s atmosphere. Under normal circumstances, the bright yellow surface of the sun, called the photosphere, is the only feature we can observe. But during an eclipse, the moon blocks out that intense light, allowing scientists to observe the much dimmer solar atmosphere.
“The basic truth of it is that we don’t understand the basic physics of our own atmosphere. There’s so much we don’t know – how it stores energy, how it dissipates heat, how it stores heat,” says Thaller. “Together with our thousands and thousands of citizen scientists, we can get a significant amount of data that will help us study how the atmosphere changes when the light is blocked out. This is the first time we’ve had such an organizing call to help us gather this data.”
So, how can you best enjoy the solar eclipse?
Five things you can do to get the most out of the Solar Eclipse
1. Viewing the Solar Eclipse
You never want to look directly at the sun without appropriate protection except during totality. That could severely hurt your eyes. However, there are many ways to safely view an eclipse of the sun including direct viewing – which requires some type of filtering device and indirect viewing where you project an image of the sun onto a screen. Both methods should produce clear images of the partial phase of an eclipse. Click here for eclipse viewing techniques and safety.
- Get your glasses on: Click here to buy your Solar Eclipse 2017 Glasses
- Make Solar Viewing Projector
- Print or make your own Pinhole Projector
- Can’t see it live? Check out NASA’s Live Stream!
- Find your spot: This map shows you where to be when the big event happens in your area. Or click here to learn more about where and when you can see the solar eclipse.
2. Download A Solar Eclipse App
Eyes Eclipse 2017 – By NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
In this interactive, web-based 3D simulation, you can click anywhere on the Earth to preview your view of the August 21st, 2017 total eclipse. This will work in the web browser on your desktop or laptop, as well as on newer tablets and mobile phones, in either iOS or Android operating systems. Click here.
Total Solar Eclipse by Exploratorium
The Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception in San Francisco, California, brings you live images of the sun during the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Our team will aim telescopes at the eclipse from locations in Oregon and Wyoming to capture the event and livestream it to the world. Click here.
3. Host A Solar Eclipse Party
Solar eclipses are exciting events that capture the imagination of us all. NASA invites you to join in experiencing this wondrous, unique event in our solar system by holding your own eclipse party! These parties are a fun way to share the excitement with schools, community groups and the public. Not sure how to throw a solar eclipse party? NASA has you covered with their own party planner.
4. Nerd Out as an Official NASA Citizen Scientist
NASA invites eclipse viewers around the country to participate in a nationwide science experiment by collecting cloud and air temperature data and reporting it via their phones.
To participate, first download the GLOBE Observer app and register to become a citizen scientist. The app will instruct you on how to make the observations. You will need to obtain a thermometer to measure air temperature.
5. Nerd Out Even More
There are many ways that you can turn this amazing event into a bigger Nerd event. These projects don’t require more than a few seconds of effort during the eclipse, provided you have set things up in the hour or so before totality!
- Smartphone Photography of the Eclipse – Want to get the very best shot you can of the solar eclipse form your phone? With a little preparation, you can get some stunning photos. Click here for more details.
- Measuring the Dimming of Daylight – We all know that sunlight fades out during a total solar eclipse, but how dark does it really get? This project lets you measure the brightness changes where you are located, and compare them with daytime, dusk, twilight, and night-time to see which is darkest! Click here for more details.
“Crowd sourcing is becoming more and more important for us,” says Thaller. “We need people to help figure out what we’re missing.”
So, if you ever wanted to be a NASA scientist, here’s your chance. For further information on the Solar Eclipse 2017, visit NASA Total Eclipse.
Bonus Nerding Out:
Read more about solar eclipses:
- Your Guide to the 2017 Solar Eclipse: In this one resource you’ll find out where the eclipse will occur, how to observe it safely, what you’ll experience during the eclipse, the best equipment to choose, how to photograph the event, detailed weather forecasts for locations where the Moon’s shadow will fall, and much more.
- Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets: Astronomer Tyler Nordgren illustrates how this most seemingly unnatural of natural phenomena was transformed from a fearsome omen to a tourist attraction, taking you around the world to show how diverse cultures interpreted these dramatic events.
- Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024: A complete guide to the most stunning of celestial sights, total eclipses of the Sun.
- American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World – Acclaimed science journalist David Baron, re-creates this epic tale of ambition, failure, and glory in a narrative that reveals as much about the historical trajectory of a striving young nation as it does about those scant three minutes when the blue sky blackened and stars appeared in mid-afternoon.
- Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses – Both entertaining and authoritative, Mask of the Sun reveals the humanism behind the science of both lunar and solar eclipses.
- Solar Eclipse Road Trip: The Complete Kids’ Guide and Activity Book for the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 – contains 50 pages of solar eclipse science, maps, car games, puzzles, crosswords, word searches, mad libs, coloring pages, story starters, and more. The complete kids’ guide and activity book for an unforgettable road trip adventure. Suitable for ages 5-11.
- Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography – From start to finish, this book is your comprehensive resource, taking you from entrance to expertise in the rewarding field of astrophotography.
- How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse: An astrophotography beginner’s guide to capturing solar and lunar eclipses – Now you can be prepared to capture this unique moment as well as other solar and lunar eclipses.
Learn more about the Eclipse;
- The Mental Floss Field Guide to Viewing the Solar Eclipse
- National Geographic: Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World
- Solar Eclipse Apocalypse: How ancient civilisations explained disappearance of the Sun
- Popular Science: Chasing eclipses in the 19th and 20th century
- What’s so awe-inspiring about solar eclipses, in one paragraph
- NASA: Eclipse Balloons to Study Effect of Mars-Like Environment on Life