What is the Total Solar Eclipse?

On August 21st here in the United States, we will experience night in the middle of the day thanks to a total solar eclipse. As this hasn’t happened in the country since 1979 and won’t happen again for another six years, it’s a pretty special celestial event. What’s extra unique about this one is that the so-called “path of totality” will stretch across the whole of the Lower 48 — from Oregon to South Carolina. The last time this happened was 99 years ago.

So what exactly is a solar eclipse? The event occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow and blocking sunlight from reaching us. There are three types of solar eclipse, total solar eclipse, partial solar eclipse, and an annular solar eclipse.

The last time this happened was 99 years ago.

A total solar eclipse is only visible from a small area on Earth. The people who see the total eclipse are in the center of the moon’s shadow when it hits Earth–this is what’s called the “path of totality.” For a total eclipse to take place, the sun, moon, and Earth must be in a direct line.

So what can you expect? Unlike lunar eclipses, solar eclipses only last for a few minutes. The sky becomes very dark, as if it were night. The eclipse coordinator from Kentucky told the AP, “It’ll look like twilight outside. You’ll be able to see stars. Four planets will be visible—Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury. You’ll notice the temperature drop about five to ten degrees. You’ll notice that animals will get a little disoriented. Birds will think that it’s nighttime and go in to roost. Some of the flowers and plants that close up at night will close up.”

For a total eclipse to take place, the sun, moon, and Earth must be in a direct line.

Remember:

Never look directly at the sun as it can permanently damage your eyes. Be sure to use the proper equipment to view the solar eclipse. You can find safety tips here.

Now, let’s just hope the weather cooperates.

Check out our travel guides to find the best viewing location near you:

Oregon

The West

The Midwest

The South

Share