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Your 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Instruction Manual

For a few minutes on August 21, 2017, the sun will disappear, the air will turn cold, and millions of Americans will stand outside looking at the sky. You should be one of them, because a total solar eclipse is freaking amazing.

Where Do We Go Now?

A total solar eclipse happens when the paths of the moon and the sun intersect, with the moon entirely blocking the sun. Believe it or not, they’re not extraordinarily rare. They happen all over the world every few years, but the last time a total solar eclipse was visible across the entire continental United States was back in 1918.

Not everyone will have the same experience on August 21. To see the full effect, you have to be in the path of totality: the 70-mile-wide stretch directly beneath the moon’s shadow. The path begins in Oregon and ends near Charleston, South Carolina. The eclipse cycle will last two and a half hours, and depending on where you’re viewing, totality could last up to two-and-a-half minutes. An estimated 12 million people live within the path of totality, but 200 million Americans could get there within a day’s drive.

Still not sold? Listen to Lou Mayo, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “People remember where they were when Kennedy was shot; people remember the moon landing; people will remember this eclipse.”

“It brings people to tears,” said Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society. “It makes people’s jaw drop.” Tears, people. Tears.

Even if you don’t want to go out of your way, you’ll still get a show. Astronomy Magazine says shadows will significantly sharpen when the moon has covered about three quarters of the sun because less light diffusion causes cleaner shadows. Additionally, trees and other lattice-like barriers (like wicker furniture) will become “solar pinholes” that leave shadows in the shape of several tiny crescents.

Local times for beginning of partial eclipse


Throwin’ Shade

Unless you’re in the path of totality, do not look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Even your normal sunglasses can’t give you the protection you need. Your retinas don’t have nerves, so you wouldn’t feel damage being done. But sunlight is still sunlight, and your eyeballs can’t handle it. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I in the 70-mile-wide path of totality?
  • Is the sun totally blocked by the moon right now?

If you’re answering no to either question, get protection if you want to look up. Specifically, you’ll need “eclipse glasses,” which arehundreds of thousands of times darker than retail sunglasses. According to the American Astronomical Society, fake eclipse glasses are flooding the market, so be careful when you pick up a pair. A few AAS-approved brandsinclude American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Celestron, and Daystar.

NASA says you should inspect the glasses for the manufacturer’s name and address printed on the product, a label noting the ISO 12312-2 international standard, a manufacturing date less than three years old, and no wrinkles or scratches on the lenses.

Party Time! Excellent!

Want to help NASA study the eclipse? Grab your a thermometer and your smartphone anddownload this app. Your data will help scientists understand the mysteries of weather patterns during eclipses.

If you’re looking to take your eclipse celebration to the next level, several cities are planning to party. Here are just a few that caught our eye:

  • Madras, Oregon, is home to Solarfest, a NASA-sponsored camping and music festival. (Because every solar event goes better with tribute bands playing Tom Petty, Heart, and Aerosmith songs.)
  • San Francisco’s Exploratorium is hosting a three-hour concert, with the Kronos Quartet joining during totality. The music will be influenced by “digital information collected from an array of telescopes,” whatever that means.
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho (within the path of totality) is home to a four-day country music festival they call Moonfest. Their website cautions, “You don’t have to be on your best church behavior, but act like your mom and grandma can see what you’re doing.”
  • NASA (and your friends from Curiosity) will be taking in the eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois. Totality in Carbondale will last longer than anywhere else: a whopping two minutes and 37 seconds. Southern Illinois University is hosting an event in their football stadium. It was supposed to be the first day of classes for SIU students, but the eclipse earned them a day off.
  • Kelly, Kentucky, is commemorating an alleged 1955 alien invasion with theirLittle Green Men Days Festival. It just happens to coincide with the eclipse. The local car dealership is raffling off a Mitsubishi…wait for it…Eclipse.
  • Nashville lies in the path of totality, and the city is hosting a viewing party at their minor league baseball park. Further east in Tennessee, the Sweetwater Eclipse partyappears to be sold out, which is a shame. We were looking forward to “complimentary moonwalking lessons.”
  • The South Carolina Philharmonic in Columbia will perform John Williams’ classic movie themes while the eclipse approaches totality at the Star Wars Musiclipse. The orchestra will be led by “Jedi Conductor” Morihiko Nakahara.

Still undecided? This solar eclipse search engine will bring up all the eclipse-themed events in your area, along with an idea of how the sun will look from where you’re standing.


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