Everything You Need to Know About the Aug. 21 Eclipse
On Aug. 21, all of North America will experience a solar eclipse.
If skies are clear, eclipse-watchers will be able to see a partial solar eclipse over several hours, and some people – within the narrow path of totality – will see a total solar eclipse for a few moments.
How to Watch
It’s never safe to look at the Sun, and an eclipse is no exception. During a partial eclipse (or on any regular day) you must use special solar filters or an indirect viewing method to watch the Sun.
If you have solar viewing glasses, check to make sure they’re safe and undamaged before using them to look at the Sun. Make sure you put them on before looking up at the Sun, and look away before removing them. Eclipse glasses can be used over your regular eyeglasses, but they should never be used when looking through telescopes, binoculars, camera viewfinders, or any other optical device.
If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can still watch the eclipse indirectly! You can make a pinhole projector out of a box, or use any other object with tiny holes – like a piece of cardstock with a hole, or your outstretched, interlaced fingers – to project an image of the partially eclipsed Sun onto the ground.
Of course, if it’s cloudy (or you’d just rather stay inside), you can watch the whole thing online with us at nasa.gov/eclipselive. Tune in starting at noon ET.
If you’re in the path of totality, there will be a few brief moments when it is safe to look directly at the eclipse. Only once the Moon has completely covered the Sun and there is no light shining through is it safe to look at the eclipse. Make sure you put your eclipse glasses back on or return to indirect viewing before the first flash of sunlight appears around the Moon’s edge.
Why do eclipses happen?
A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow down on Earth’s surface. The path of totality – where the Moon completely covers the Sun – is traced out by the Moon’s inner shadow, the umbra. People within the Moon’s outer shadow, the penumbra, can see a partial eclipse.
The Moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted by about five degrees, meaning that its shadow usually doesn’t fall on Earth. Only when the Moon lines up exactly between the Sun and Earth do we see an eclipse.
Though the Sun is about 400 times wider than the Moon, it is also about 400 times farther away, making their apparent sizes match up almost exactly. This is what allows the Moon to block out the Sun’s bright face, while revealing the comparatively faint, pearly-white corona.
The Science of Eclipses
Eclipses are a beautiful sight to see, and they’re also helpful for our scientists, so we’re funding eleven ground-based science investigations to learn more about the Sun and Earth.
Total solar eclipses reveal the innermost regions of the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. Though it’s thought to house the processes that kick-start much of the space weather that can influence Earth, as well as heating the whole corona to extraordinarily high temperatures, we can’t study this region at any other time. This is because coronagraphs – the instruments we use to study the Sun’s atmosphere by creating artificial eclipses – must cover up much of the corona, as well as the Sun’s face in order to produce clear images.
Eclipses also give us the chance to study Earth’s atmosphere under uncommon conditions: the sudden loss of solar radiation from within the Moon’s shadow. We’ll be studying the responses of both Earth’s ionosphere – the region of charged particles in the upper atmosphere – and the lower atmosphere.
Since it’s never safe to look at the partially eclipsed or uneclipsed Sun, everyone who plans to watch the eclipse needs a plan to watch it safely. One of the easiest ways to watch an eclipse is solar viewing glasses – but there are a few things to check to make sure your glasses are safe:
To use solar viewing glasses, make sure you put them on before looking up at the Sun, and look away before you remove them. Proper solar viewing glasses are extremely dark, and the landscape around you will be totally black when you put them on – all you should see is the Sun (and maybe some types of extremely bright lights if you have them nearby).
Never use solar viewing glasses while looking through a telescope, binoculars, camera viewfinder, or any other optical device. The concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury. But you can use solar viewing glasses on top of your regular eyeglasses, if you use them!
If you don’t have solar viewing glasses, there are still ways to watch, like making your own pinhole projector. You can make a handheld box projector with just a few simple supplies – or simply hold any object with a small hole (like a piece of cardstock with a pinhole, or even a colander) above a piece of paper on the ground to project tiny images of the Sun.
Of course, you can also watch the entire eclipse online with us. Tune into nasa.gov/eclipselive starting at noon ET on Aug. 21!
For people in the path of totality, there will be a few brief moments when it is safe to look directly at the eclipse. Only once the Moon has completely covered the Sun and there is no light shining through is it safe to look at the eclipse. Make sure you put your eclipse glasses back on or return to indirect viewing before the first flash of sunlight appears around the Moon’s edge.
You can look up the length of the total eclipse in your area to help you set a time for the appropriate length of time. Remember – this only applies to people within the path of totality.
Everyone else will need to use eclipse glasses or indirect viewing throughout the entire eclipse!
Photographing the Eclipse
Whether you’re an amateur photographer or a selfie master, try out these tips for photographing the eclipse.
#1 — Safety first: Make sure you have the required solar filter to protect your camera.
#2 — Any camera is a good camera, whether it’s a high-end DSLR or a camera phone – a good eye and vision for the image you want to create is most important.
#3 — Look up, down, and all around. As the Moon slips in front of the Sun, the landscape will be bathed in long shadows, creating eerie lighting across the landscape. Light filtering through the overlapping leaves of trees, which creates natural pinholes, will also project mini eclipse replicas on the ground. Everywhere you can point your camera can yield exceptional imagery, so be sure to compose some wide-angle photos that can capture your eclipse experience.
#4 — Practice: Be sure you know the capabilities of your camera before Eclipse Day. Most cameras, and even many camera phones, have adjustable exposures, which can help you darken or lighten your image during the tricky eclipse lighting. Make sure you know how to manually focus the camera for crisp shots.
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On Monday, August 21, 2017, our nation will be treated to a total eclipse of the Sun. The eclipse will be visible – weather permitting – across all of North America. The entire continent will experience at least a partial eclipse lasting two to three hours. Halfway through the event, anyone within a 60 to 70 mile-wide path from Oregon to South Carolina will experience a total eclipse. During those brief moments when the moon completely blocks the Sun’s bright face for 2+ minutes, day will turn into night, making visible the otherwise hidden solar corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere. Bright stars and planets will become visible as well. This is truly one of nature’s most awesome sights. The eclipse provides a unique opportunity to study the Sun, Earth, Moon and their interaction because of the eclipse’s long path over land coast to coast.
Scientists will be able to take ground-based and airborne observations over a period of about 90 minutes to complement the wealth of data provided by NASA assets.