There Goes the Sun …

By Seth Shostak

If you don’t know about the total solar eclipse coming up in August, then it’s likely you also don’t know that winter’s over or that Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom have split.

To recap what may be old news, on Monday, August 21 the central shadow of the Moon will sail into Oregon, changing morning to night.  Over the course of the next 1-1/2 hours, the lunar shadow will cross twelve states, disappearing over the Atlantic at the eastern edge of South Carolina.

That’s the path of totality, and you can inspect it in detail using this interactive map:

Now, the path isn’t very wide, about 60 miles.  So it only traverses about 5 percent of the land area of the Lower 48.  If, as is likely, you’re not in that path, you may be tempted to think “hey, no big deal.  It will still be 85 percent totality where I live.”

That could be true for a lot of folk, and indeed, there’s no place in the contiguous U.S. where the eclipse will be less than about 50 percent.

But would you be happy just climbing partway up Mt. Everest?  There’s a huge difference between seeing a partial eclipse (even 99 percent) and one that’s total.  If you can arrange to get into that path, and can use giant fans or a Magic 8 Ball to avoid being clouded out, you will experience a celestial event that will be unrivaled in your personal life (unless, of course, you were around 66 million years ago to witness the asteroid that snuffed the dinosaurs.)

But if you’re planning to look skyward on August 21, either in or out of the path of totality, there are some things you need to know and some inexpensive apparatus you need to have.  It’s all detailed in about 2.6 jillion web sites.  Here are a few that are worthy of your notice:

Resources and glasses from the SETI Institute:

Big Picture Science podcast, special eclipse episode:

How to watch the eclipse:

Average cloud cover for the path of totality and elsewhere: