There's an old saying that "There is nothing new under the sun." True, the solar eclipse occurring less than one week from today (Monday, August 21), isn't a new phenomenon – but it can accurately be billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event. The last total solar eclipse that could be viewed across America took place 99 years ago on June 8, 1918. There will only be two such eclipses in the 21st century – August 21, 2017 and August 12, 2045.
That's one reason this eclipse has captured imaginations worldwide. People from 33 different countries are expected to travel to western Kentucky, which will be the point where the most complete alignment of sun, moon and Earth will be on view. The town of Hopkinsville, KY has been preparing for the event for almost a decade, and they are expecting about 200,000 visitors. (Of course, at Sunfinity Solar, we are always excited about the power of the sun – and more and more folks are catching on to the benefits of going solar every day.)
A total eclipse is just that – the moon moves between the Earth and the sun, completely obscuring the much bigger, brighter heavenly body. (The sun's corona – wisps of plasma that surround the main body – will be visible outlining the moon. Since the bright body of the sun usually outshines the corona, this is an ideal time for scientists to study this part of the sun.) There are also…
- partial solar eclipses, with the moon only covering part of the sun
- annular eclipses, where the main body is the sun appears as a ring surrounding the moon (the Latin word annulus means ring)
- a rare hybrid eclipse, coming characteristics of a total and annular eclipse.
While total eclipses do occur almost annually (the last total eclipse occurred in March, 2016), they are only visible in certain parts of the world at a time. The March eclipse could only be viewed in Asia, Australia and parts of the Pacific. Of six total eclipses that have or will occur from 2011 through 2020, this is the only one visible in North America.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON MONDAY, AUGUST 21
This total solar eclipse commences in Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 9:05 a.m., Pacific time, and ends near Charleston, South Carolina just over two and a half hours later, 2:48 p.m. Eastern time. The moon's shadow will move across America at about 1,500 miles per hour.
The "path of totality" is the area from which you'll be able to see the moon fully obscure the sun. It's a swath about 70 miles wide, that will cross the U.S. from West to East. States in the path of totality include Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North and South Carolina – although the path will cover portions of these states, not entire states. If you live outside of this area, you'll still be able to view a partial eclipse. (Click here and put in your zip code to find at how much of the eclipse you'll see, and the peak time.)
The total eclipse at its longest will last two minutes and 40 seconds. It may last less than a minute in some places, but an amazing change will take place in that short span of time. It will become quite dark, and in fact, the stars and planets like Venus will be on view for. Temperatures will fall rapidly, and crickets and birds will sing their "lullabies."
A word of warning wherever you live – ONLY view the eclipse with approved eclipse glasses. These are inexpensive, but essential, as looking directly at the sun – even if it is partially obscured – can damage your eyes. If you are in the path of totality, you can remove your glasses for the brief time when the moon fully blocks the sun, but you'll need to put them back on as soon as the sun begins to re-emerge.
Check your local event sites for parties, festivals and other activities celebrating the eclipse. If you're in Dallas, join us at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical garden. (http://www.dallasarboretum.org/visit/seasonal-festivals-events/summer-at-the-arboretum)
From 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sunfinity Solar and the Dallas Arboretum will be presenting Minutes of Midnight, with complimentary eclipse viewing glasses (while supplies last.) Admission is $1 (parking is $5), and guests can enjoy music (an eclipse-themed play list), jumbo lawn games such as Jenga, Connect Four and Yardzee, and the beauty of North Texas' finest public garden.
Our California customers also have a wide range of eclipse events to choose from. A list of eight different options in Sacramento can be seen here: http://www.abc10.com/news/eclipse/8-solar-eclipse-events-in-the-sacramento-region-to-attend/462602559. And even though Los Angeles is known for its "star sightings," there will be lots of opportunities to celebrate the solar eclipse: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/08/13/where-to-watch-the-solar-eclipse-in-los-angeles/.
Wherever you live, we hope you'll be able to take a few minutes to observe this great natural spectacle – and be thankful for the many ways that the sun powers and improves our lives on planet Earth.