A total solar eclipse is perhaps one of the most dramatic astronomical events we may witness during our lifetimes. On August 21, 2017, all of North America, as well as parts of South America, Africa, and Europe will experience either a total or partial solar eclipse. Our printable solar eclipse map shows when and where you can plan on viewing the eclipse in the United States. Here are ten facts to know about this summer’s solar eclipse before heading out with your kids to view this astronomical event.
1. People in fourteen states will experience a total solar eclipse. The path of the total eclipse will trail from Oregon southeast to South Carolina. The rest of North America will experience a partial solar eclipse.
2. Totality is the maximum amount of time the moon completely blocks the sun. The location with the longest duration of totality will be near Carbondale, Illinois, and will last about 2 minutes 40 seconds.
3. The duration of the eclipse will depend upon your location. In most places, the time of first contact, from when the moon first begins to cross the sun, until fourth contact, when it completes the eclipse, lasts two to three hours.
4. During a solar eclipse, the moon aligns perfectly between Earth and the sun. Since the moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly tilted compared to Earth’s orbit, solar eclipses do not occur every month. Our online Solar Eclipse lesson introduces students to the science of eclipses.
5. Although the diameter of the sun is much larger than the diameter of the moon, from Earth, they appear to be the same size. The moon is much closer to Earth and is located at the exact distance needed to completely block the sun during a total eclipse.
6. The moon blocks the bright photosphere of the sun during a total solar eclipse. During totality, the corona, or dim outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere, can be seen.
7. The only time you can safely view a solar eclipse without eye protection is during totality. Discuss eye safety with children ahead of time and purchase certified ellipse glasses (not the same as regular sunglasses!). Learn more about ellipse eye safety at NASA.gov.
8. Subtle and not so subtle natural changes can be observed during a solar eclipse. The sky darkens. Air temperature decreases. The stars come out. It has even been reported that animal behavior changes as it would as nighttime falls. Changes will be most dramatic along the path of totality.
9. People have observed solar eclipses throughout human history. Yet, the narrow and seemingly random path of the moon’s shadow across Earth’s surface made it difficult for early astronomers to predict when the next solar eclipse would occur. It’s no wonder ancient cultures considered solar eclipses to be foreboding events. Our worksheet, What Causes a Solar Eclipse?, explores a few of the ancient explanations about solar eclipses.
10. The next total solar eclipse in the continental United States will occur on April 8, 2024. The next time a total solar eclipse will cross the U.S. from coast-to-coast will not be until August 12, 2045.
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