The path of totality of this year’s solar eclipse sweeps only over the United States and no other country. That has never happened before.
On Aug. 21 the moon’s shadow will darken a path 35 to 71 miles wide from Oregon to South Carolina, blocking out the light from the sun. If you are in this path, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While all of the United States will experience a partial eclipse, which is cool, nothing is like a total eclipse of the sun.
The last total eclipse of the sun over the United States was in 1979. It covered the northwestern United States. I was in school in Albuquerque, New Mexico and my teacher gave our class special glasses to see, what was for us, a partial eclipse of the sun. I can remember the image to this day. But to find a total solar eclipse that covers this much real estate in the United States, you’d have to go back to 1918. Some are calling the eclipse of 2017 the “Great American Eclipse” because the path of totality sweeps only over the United States and no other country. That has never happened before.
Twelve million people live in the path of totality, covering 21 cities. Within 400 miles the number is 174 million — half the population of our country. For 3 hours and 13 minutes the moon’s shadow will travel the U.S. at three times the speed of sound, 2,400 mph, before moving over the Atlantic Ocean.
The most important thing to know that day, no matter where in the U.S. you live, is to never look directly at the sun. Dangerous UV light will cause severe retinal damage or blindness. Sunglasses are not safe; you’ll need special glasses to filter out the harmful rays. The lenses are similar to a welder’s shield. One of the companies that sells these glasses is Rainbow Symphony in Reseda, California. There are also filters for binoculars and cameras. If you are in the path of totality you can take off your glasses once the moon completely covers the sun because at that point the moon is your filter.
Of course the weather is extremely important this day. Clear skies provide the best view, but a few clouds away from the sun will make for a cool affect, too. The western half of the United States has the best weather odds, but it’s always important to follow the forecast. There will be many people in the path of totality with overcast skies missing out on this incredible event.
The total eclipse begins in the United States along the Oregon coast at 10:16 a.m. PDT. While a sight like this would be incredible along the coast, the west coast has the highest odds for a cloudy morning. Again, if you are near the beach watch the cloud cover forecast closely.
As the moon crosses in front of the sun, the temperature will suddenly drop causing the air to contract, pulling in gusty winds from all directions. You may notice insects and animals acting strangely as skies grow dark. Clouds darken, appearing like a storm is forming, and the temperature drops noticeably. During totality look for these incredible sights:
Baily’s Beads and Diamond Rings – As the last rays of the sunlight stream toward the earth, you may see these on the outer ring of the sun.
Prominence – This is when hot hydrogen gas rises from the sun’s surface hundreds of thousands of miles into space. These are best seen with binoculars.
But the highlight will be the corona, and that only occurs during totality. People who’ve seen the corona of the sun say words cannot describe how breathtaking this experience is. You’re seeing super-heated plasma at 2 million degrees, forming what can only be described as ghost flares surrounding the sun.
If you are outside the lines of the moon’s umbra, the complete shadow, you miss the twilight skies and the exquisite views of the sun’s corona. But you will get the penumbra, or partial shadow. It is 6,000 miles in diameter and all of the United States will get a rather large partial eclipse. From Los Angeles to Houston the moon will cover approximately 70 percent of the sun.
If you miss it, the next total solar eclipse over the United States is Monday, April 8, 2024, the shadow travels from Texas to Maine.
The sun is 864,000 miles in diameter — that’s 400 times larger than the moon. But the moon is also 400 times closer to Earth and, as a result, when their orbital planes intersect the new moon appears to completely blot out the disk of the sun. The moon’s shadow is the umbra. On average the total eclipse of the sun from the same spot on the earth happens once every 375 years.
When the Eclipse Happens Worldwide — Timeline
The eclipse starts at one location and ends at another. The times below are actual times (in UTC) when the eclipse occurs.
|Event||UTC Time||Time in Thousand Oaks*|
|First location to see the partial eclipse begin||Aug 21 at 15:46:50||Aug 21 at 8:46:50 am|
|First location to see the full eclipse begin||Aug 21 at 16:48:34||Aug 21 at 9:48:34 am|
|Maximum Eclipse||Aug 21 at 18:25:35||Aug 21 at 11:25:35 am|
|Last location to see the full eclipse end||Aug 21 at 20:02:33||Aug 21 at 1:02:33 pm|
|Last location to see the partial eclipse end||Aug 21 at 21:04:21||Aug 21 at 2:04:21 pm|
* Local times shown do not refer to when the eclipse can be observed from Thousand Oaks. Instead, they indicate the times when the eclipse begins, is at its maximum, and ends, somewhere else on Earth. The corresponding local times are useful if you want to view the eclipse via a live webcam.