What You Need to Know to Watch the August 21 Solar Eclipse

iPhone with solar eclipse

August 21, 2017, is the first time in almost 100 years a total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast in the United States. You’ll need to find the right places to see the eclipse in totality, so The Mac Observer put together the resources you need to find where to go, how to track the eclipse, and how to keep your eyes safe, too.

iPhone with solar eclipse
What you need to know to watch the Aug 21 solar eclipse

What’s a Solar Eclipse?

As the Moon orbits Earth it occasionally passes between us and the sun. The Moon blocks the light from the sun and for a few minutes and the temperature drops as if it’s night for a few minutes. That’s a solar eclipse.

The August 21st eclipse will track diagonally across the continental United States from the north west to south east. You’ll be able to see if from everywhere—assuming there isn’t cloud cover—but to see the full eclipse you need to be in a narrow band that runs from Oregon to South Carolina.

Eclipse Safety

Watching the solar eclipse isn’t, however, as simple as looking to the sky. In fact, that’s a really good way to permanently damage your eyes or even go blind. Here are my eclipse watching safety tips:

  • Never look directly at the sun. Never, never, never. That’s how you go blind.
  • Sunglasses won’t protect your eyes from an eclipse.
  • Use a pinhole projector or eclipse-rated eye protection when viewing the event.
  • Never look directly at the sun.
  • And never look directly at the sun.

Eclipse Websites

NASA Eclipse 101 Nasa’s eclipse webpage is loaded with details about the event, including scientific and astronomical information, maps, and an excellent collection of safety tips.

NASA solar eclipse website with tips and maps
NASA’s solar eclipse website

Eclipse2017.org The Eclipse2017.org website has lots of great info, but my favorite part is the excellent collection of maps showing the path of totality. They even have maps for each state so you can easily see which counties will have the best viewing experience.

Space.com I’m not a fan of the giant ads on Space.com’s site, but I love the full-country map detailing the eclipse path. The killer feature on their eclipse page is the chart showing eclipse times for various cities in the path of totality.

Interactive Eclipse Map Xavier Jubier’s Google Maps project shows the eclipse path and shows you details for any place you click. It also has a search feature so you can enter a city name or coordinates and see that location’s event details.

Interactive 2017 solar eclipse tracker made with Google Maps
See eclipse details for any location in your browser

Next up: Eclipse apps and viewing gear

3 thoughts on “What You Need to Know to Watch the August 21 Solar Eclipse

  • Pinhole Projectors:

    The idea is a small hole will act like a pinhole lense if the surface it is projecting on is far away, the figure usually quoted is 100x the diameter of the hole or farther. So for a shoebox a piece of foil with a tiny pinhole will make a small image of the partially eclipsed sun on the other end of the box. A very small image

    But there’s a better way.

    In 1998, when I was going to an eclipse in Aruba I brought along a 16×16 chunk of pegboard. During the partial phases I found if you hold it out at right angle to the sun it will project nice multiple images of the crescent sun on a flat surface, concrete works best, as long as it is several feet away from the pegboard. They are nice big bright images too.

    Remember the images get sharper the closer to totality you are.
    As you said NEVER, NEVER, NEVER look directly at the sun during partial phases.
    The only type of solar filter that is safe for use with a telescope is one over the aperture, the big end. NEVER use a solar filter that goes in the eyepiece.

    1. I love the pegboard idea! During the last partial eclipse in Boulder I used a paper clip to punch a hole in a big piece of paper and projected onto a concrete parking lot. Almost everyone that saw the image on the ground thought I was performing some sort of wizardry.

    2. The pegboard is a great idea, and I’ll be sharing with my friends. I’m thinking if I set up my camera on a tripod, aim it at the driveway, then I could take photos of the images.

      I remember doing the shoebox viewer when I was a young girl in school (and then having to write the always dreaded paper “What I learned during the eclipse”.) I live in the path of this eclipse, and I’m looking forward to the eclipse–and not having to write a paper afterwards. HA!

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