On August 21, the moon will come between the earth and the sun, casting a 70-mile shadow from Oregon to South Carolina in what is likely to be the most-viewed solar eclipse ever recorded.
Already being referred to as the “Great American Eclipse,” this will be the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years.
“The US only covers 2 percent of the globe, so we get very few eclipses,” said Matthew Penn, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. “And to have one travel across the entire country is an unprecedented sort of opportunity. It’ll be a heck of a day.”
Penn will be running a project during the eclipse called Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) that will attempt to record and put together a movie of the full eclipse in order to study the sun’s magnetic field. Data will be collected via telescopes, cameras, and computers operated by volunteers across the country.
The eclipse will first be visible from the Oregon coast around 9:05 AM on the 21st, after which a partial eclipse will be viewable across the entire US, including Alaska and Hawaii. Canada, Central America, and northern South America will also get a view at varying points throughout the day.
More than 200 million people currently live within a day’s drive of the eclipse, which means it’s likely to be seen by more people than any other eclipse in recent history.
Scientists are particularly excited about the part of the eclipse during which the sun’s corona, a magnetically energized region just above the sun’s surface, will be visible. Temperatures in this region will climb from 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 4 million degrees—and scientists still don’t know why. So the chance to study the area more closely is pretty exciting, particularly since the innermost regions can only be seen during a total solar eclipse.
In addition to various individual Earth residents, 11 NASA spacecraft and more than 50 high-altitude balloons will be taking photos and studying the effects of the eclipse on the earth’s atmosphere.
If you want to see the eclipse, be sure to wear proper viewing glasses to avoid damaging your eyes. You’ll want shades with these specifications, provided by NASA:
- Certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard
- Manufacturer’s name and address easily accessible to assure legitimacy
- Less than three years old and without scratches or wrinkled lenses
- NO homemade filters (they’re not as safe as the properly manufactured kind)
Happy solar eclipse viewing!