How Can You Prepare for the August Solar Eclipse?

In less than a week, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun in the middle of the day blocking between 20 to 100% of the Sun’s light across the continental United States as it does. How can you prepare for the solar eclipse? 

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD ,
August 15, 2017
Episode #250


In less than a week, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun in the middle of the day blocking between 20 to 100% of the Sun’s light across the continental United States as it does.

How much of an eclipse will I see?

The geographic region that will see a total solar eclipse, known as the path of totality, is 70 miles wide, hitting land westward of Salem, Oregon (just south of Portland) around 10:15am and moving out over the Atlantic Ocean around 2:50pm just after passing through Columbia, South Carolina. Other cities in the path of totality include Salem, Oregon, Nashville, Tennessee, and parts of both Kansas City and St Louis. For detailed maps of the path of totality, check out the website eclipse2017.org.

How long will the eclipse last?

The eclipse will take just 1 hour and 33 minutes to move across the United States. Those in Oregon will see a shorter eclipse as the shadow will hit the Earth at an angle there causing it to cover a larger portion of its path than when viewed straight on. In western Oregon, the shadow will clock speeds around 2410 miles per hour compared to speeds as low as 1462 miles per hour in western Kentucky. At a given location, the Sun will be at least partially eclipsed up to 2-3 hours with totality lasting between 2-3 minutes.

NASA has an extremely informative interactive map that allows you to click on your location to learn the amount of obscuration you will see, the duration of totality you will experience, as well as the precise time you should head outside to look. Vox also has a cool tool that allows you to enter your zip code to get an idea of how the eclipse will look from your perspective.

What else will I see during the eclipse?

If you are in the path of totality or close to it, you should be able to see phenomena that are usually otherwise overpowered by the Sun’s light. The Sun’s corona, a wispy layer of plasma surrounding our star, for example, is visible during totality as a ring around the black disk that is the obscured Sun. In fact, scientists have several experiments planned to study the corona while the Moon conveniently blocks the rest of the Sun’s light.

You should also see other stars! There are always stars in the sky during the day – we just usually cannot see them as they outshone by a much closer star, the Sun.

While the Moon and the Sun have conveniently placed themselves so that the smaller yet closer Moon appears precisely the same size as the larger but more distant Sun from our perspective, the Moon does not have a smooth surface. Our Moon has hundreds of craters that, without erosion, plate tectonics, or volcanism, have stood the test of time. As the Moon obscures the Sun, the bumpy lunar surface will allow spots of light to appear along the edge of the eclipse known as Bailey’s beads.

You don’t need to look up to see something out of the ordinary. The Sun’s image projected on the ground will appear as crescent shapes covering the Earth’s surface. A good place to catch this phenomenon is under a tree, as the light passes through different gaps in the leaves and branches.


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