Get ready to watch a solar eclipse on Monday, August 21! The eclipse will last about two and a half hours, but if you only have a few minutes make sure you get outside to watch around the halfway point. The eclipse happens mid-day around 9:00am-11:30am (PST), or 1:30pm-4pm (EST). If you are lucky enough to be in the "path of totality" where it will be a total solar eclipse, totality will only last two minutes, so make sure you know exactly what time to get out there! For start/end times, and the time of totality (or maximum eclipse), look for your city here: eclipse times.
A solar eclipse is when the moon crosses in front of the sun. The sun will look like a crescent, and the moon casts a shadow on the earth, making the sky darker. If you are where the eclipse is a total eclipse, meaning the sun is fully covered by the moon, you'll even be able to see the stars come out during the day!
Because the sun is so much further away from us than the moon, solar eclipses can only be seen in very specific places. This is why this eclipse is special - it's in North America! In fact, the last time a solar eclipse happened that could be seen from coast to coast was in 1918, and the next one will be in 2045. Now that's a long time waiting.
This picture shows how much of the sun will be covered by the moon, which is different all over North America.
A great way to get your kids (and you!) excited ahead of time is to build a pinhole projector to watch the eclipse. Get a shoebox or cardboard box, tape a white paper to the inside, and on the opposite side create a small "pinhole". Then aim the hole at the sun, and look at the white paper to see the sun projected onto it. Another option is to punch very small holes into a thin sheet of cardboard (one side of a cereal box will do), and hold it above the ground - you will see the sun projected right onto the ground.
If you don't have any equipment, a neat trick is to look at shadows on the ground to see if they look different from usual. Leafy trees are great for this as they cast small shadows - do they look more like crescents now?
Another great way to watch the eclipse is to get eclipse glasses. Make sure they have an "ISO certification of 12312-2", which means they are safe to look at the sun since they block out infrared and UV light. Make sure you don't take them off until you look away from the sun, and supervise younger kids to make sure the glasses are covering their eyes. If you check out a public event for the eclipse they might be handing out glasses for free (if you get there early). If you'd rather buy your own, eclipse glasses are sold in many different stores right now including 7-11, Walmart, and Toys "R" Us. Check here for the list of science stores and retail stores that carry them: https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters
You might ask, "where should I go to watch the eclipse?". The answer is simple: anywhere outside! You can enjoy the eclipse from your own backyard, bring some chairs and hang out in the park, or you can also check with your local astronomy group or museums to see what they are up to - chances are they will have binoculars and telescopes with special solar filters to look through.
Important things to remember:
- Never look directly at the sun, it will cause permanent eye damage
- Do not use regular sunglasses to look at the sun. No matter how dark, you will still hurt your eyes
If it is cloudy where you are, make sure to catch NASA's live streaming of the eclipse at nasa.gov/eclipselive
Read more about the author