Your 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Instruction Manual

Brilliance | Dec. 09, 2017

Curiosity's coverage of the 2017 eclipse is brought to you by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.

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.

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:

If you're answering no to either question, get protection if you want to look up. Specifically, you'll need "eclipse glasses," which are hundreds 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 brands include 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 and download 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:

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.

Want to learn more about the eclipse? See our other articles here. And to hear an astronomer give even more insights into the eclipse, check out our special podcast episode here or click below to stream.

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