NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio
Joelle Goldstein
July 27, 2017 01:34 PM

Get your cameras ready, everyone! (Preferably to the tune of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” because, well, is there anything else more fitting?!)

On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse is expected to cross the United States, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina – the first visible in the continental U.S. in nearly 40 years.

If you’re in a 70-mile-way band across the country, you can watch as the moon appears to completely cover the sun. Clear your schedules now because this is something you don’t want to miss out on.

Eclipses happen every 18 months somewhere in the world – but this one’s different, and much more special. The event next month will be a total eclipse. The last time a total eclipse appeared anywhere in the U.S. was 1991 – and only people in Hawaii could see it. The last one visible to Americans living in the Lower 48 was 1979 .

Anything else you might’ve witnessed was only a partial or annual eclipse – and yes, those are much more common, averaging on a few times per year. Partial eclipses like on Christmas Day 2000 or annual eclipses from May 10, 1994 are fun to observe, but they’re nothing compared to what you’ll encounter on August 21.

Americans who miss this one won’t be able to see another until 2024.

While the totality of the eclipse may only last for a few brief seconds, it’s a major piece of history that you won’t want to miss. To ensure that you get the best experience of the total solar eclipse, here are a few helpful hints.

WHERE TO GO

The total solar eclipse is expected to pass through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. If you’re not living in these areas, don’t fret! A partial solar eclipse can be seen in the sky for all other states, so you won’t completely miss out on all the excitement. Parts of South America, Africa and Europe are also expected to see a partial view. NASA offers an interactive map to guide your knowledge, giving you a magnified look at the path and helping to determine exact locations of visibility.

DURATION

Depending on your location, the total solar eclipse can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. At most, sky watchers along the path may see the eclipse for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. As for those outside of the path, duration will decrease as you stray further away, with anyone at the very edge only observing the eclipse for a few seconds. In addition, those on the path of totality can expect to see the eclipse any time ranging from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Check your specific location’s time beforehand and make sure you’re ready to go!

CONDITIONS

Seeing a total solar eclipse is best when conditions are dry with minimal weather issues. Based on weather patterns, it is likely that most Americans won’t have any problems viewing the celestial sight. As for clouds, August tends to be a clear month chances are good most people won’t have anything blocking the view.

WHAT YOU NEED

Here’s the great thing: You don’t need much. Just step outside to experience it all. However, it is recommended to purchase a pair of solar viewing glasses prior to the eclipse to ensure your eye safety.

The shades allow for observers to look directly at the sun before and after totality. (And sadly, no… sunglasses don’t count.) In the stage of totality, where the moon completely covers the sun, it is completely safe to look up. Binoculars and telescopes can also be used but are not necessary. If you choose to use a telescope, it is advised to use a low-powered one.

OTHER TIPS

Believe it or not, August 21 is also anticipated to be one of the worst days of traffic in history. Because an estimated 25 million live within a day’s drive of the total eclipse’s path, NASA predicts that the population may double on the day of the celestial sight. If you’re planning to make the drive, leave ample travel time and plan ahead. (Sorry to say, but most hotel rooms inside the path of totality have been booked for months or year in many places. If you haven’t booked one already, you’re chances aren’t looking too good.)

WHAT IF YOU MISS IT

While solar eclipses occur on an average of two to five times per year, total solar eclipses are more of a rarity. If you miss the seeing the August 21 eclipse in person, it’ll be a little longer until the next one. Scientists predict the next total solar eclipse will occur in 2019 in southern Argentina and Chile only. For the next one in the U.S., however, you’ll be waiting until 2024 when it happens over the skies of Mexico and Texas, and follows a path through to the Midwest and Northeast.

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