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GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE BEGINS IN:

 

What is a solar eclipse?

 

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, like below. To us on Earth, the Sun’s light is partially or even totally blocked. As a result, it can look like midnight, even during the daytime for a few moments!

In fact, during a total solar eclipse (see types of solar eclipses), the sky temporarily becomes so dark that stars are visible during the day. Not to mention, thinking it’s their bedtime, birds suddenly stop chirping momentarily!

Indeed, these few brief moments during a solar eclipse remind us just how important the Sun is to our daily lives on Earth! In fact, people often gasp, cheer or even cry when the Sun becomes totally covered!

Great American Eclipse Diagram

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What is the umbra?

During a solar eclipse, the umbra is the area where basically all of the Sun’s light is blocked. People on Earth within the umbra will see a total solar eclipse, like on 8-21-17 in the US!

Great American Eclipse Solar Eclipse Umbra Penumbra Diagram

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What is the penumbra?

On the other hand, the penumbra is the area where the Sun’s light is only partially blocked. People within the penumbra will see a partial solar eclipse.

Great American Eclipse Solar Eclipse Umbra Diagram

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What is the path of totality?

During a solar eclipse, the path of totality is the path along Earth where a truly total solar eclipse can be seen. Usually, the path of totality is less than 100 miles wide! For instance, the Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017 will cross the USA from Oregon to South Carolina (almost 3,000 miles), but the path will only be around 70 miles wide!

Great American Eclipse 2017 Path of Totality

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Types of solar eclipses

When the Moon passes in between the Sun and Earth, it blocks some or all of the Sun’s light. The amount of sunlight blocked depends on which angle we see the eclipse from Earth. Thus, we can have several types of solar eclipse:

 

Total solar eclipse

During a total solar eclipse, the Moon completely hides the Sun, blocking all of its light. This causes daytime darkness, daytime stars to be visible and more. Plus, certain parts of the Sun are only visible during a total solar eclipse, like the corona (see Parts of an eclipse). 

Total Solar Eclipse Example

 

Partial solar eclipse

Partial solar eclipses happen when the Moon only blocks part of the Sun, as shown below. Basically, the Sun looks like it has a bite taken out of it!

Partial Solar Eclipse Example

 

Annular solar eclipse

During an annular solar eclipse, the Moon only appears large enough to block the Sun’s center. As a result, only the outer Sun is showing, appearing like a ring.

Annular Solar Eclipse Example

Did you know?

The ring-like appearance of an annular eclipse comes from the Latin word, “annulus,” meaning ring.

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Parts of a total solar eclipse

Our Moon blocking the Sun’s light causes some extremely rare and exciting visual effects during a total solar eclipse. In fact, we even get a rare look at parts of the Sun we are completely unable to see otherwise!

Bailey’s Beads

As the Moon completely covers the Sun during a total solar eclipse, the Bailey’s Beads effect appears. Covered in craters, the Moon’s bumpy surface allows beams of Sun to peak out in some places, these are Bailey’s Beads!

Total Solar Eclipse Bailey's Beads Example

Corona

The Corona is one layer of our Sun’s atmosphere. Actually, it’s extremely hot plasma traveling outward along the Sun’s fierce magnetic field lines. As a result, the corona appears as long spikes jutting out of the Sun. In fact, this is where the corona receives its name, which is Latin for “crown!”

Not to mention, the Sun’s other bright layers completely hide the corona from our vision. Therefore, only during total solar eclipses can we see this magical layer! Also, Astronimate has videos to explain the Sun’s inner layers and the Sun’s outer layers

Total Solar Eclipse Corona Example

Diamond Ring Effect

As the Moon reaches totality and completely masks the Sun, the diamond ring effect occurs. Bailey’s Beads continue to disappear until one ray of sunlight remains. Finally, this last ray shines bright in our sky, appearing as a diamond ring! 

Total Solar Eclipse Diamond Ring Effect Example   

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How often does a total solar eclipse happen?

People often think of total solar eclipses as extremely rare. But, a total solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth every 18 months, not too rare.

But, how often a total solar eclipse happens in the same spot is a much different story. In fact, the last time a total solar eclipse was visible from coast-to-coast in the US was 1918. In other words, the Great American Eclipse will be the first of its kind in 100 years!

For instance, the last total solar eclipse visible from Los Angeles, California happened in 1724, and will not happen again until the year 3,290. That’s over 1,500 years between total solar eclipses!

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Can I see the Great American Eclipse of 2017?

The total solar eclipse happening on August 21, 2017 is only visible in the US. Hence, its name the Great American Eclipse. But, those of us in the US for the eclipse may be able to see it! However, since the path of totality is quite thin, you can’t see a total eclipse from just anywhere.

To witness a TOTAL solar eclipse, your location must fall in the umbra (see What is the umbra?). As a result, you to see the Sun completely blocked by our Moon. In fact, people often claim a total solar eclipse is one of the most amazing experiences a human will see in their lifetime!

However, if your location instead falls within the penumbra (see What is the penumbra?), you will only see a PARTIAL solar eclipse. In other words, the Moon will only partially block the Sun. While not quite as spectacular, still a truly wondrous sight!

Fortunately, you can check the map and list below to find the nearest location to see the 2017 Great American Eclipse!

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Great American Eclipse 2017 Map

 

OREGON

Salem
Madras
Prineville

IDAHO

Rexburg

WYOMING

Casper

NEBRASKA

Alliance
Grand Island

MISSOURI

Kansas City
St. Clair
St. Joseph
Lathrop
Boonville

ILLINOIS

Carbondale
Carterville
Goreville

KENTUCKY

Hopkinsville
Bowling Green

TENNESSEE

Clarksville
Nashville
Cookeville

NORTH CAROLINA

Bryson City

SOUTH CAROLINA

Greenville
Long Creek
Columbia

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