The Solar Eclipse: What to Expect

Because of planetary geometry, the total eclipse can last less than one minute in some places, and as long as two minutes and 41 seconds in others. The eclipse’s longest point of duration is near a small town called Makanda, Ill., population 600.

Around 1:15 p.m. Eastern time, the total solar eclipse will first reach Oregon’s coast. Then it will race for the next 90 or so minutes over 13 more states: Idaho, Montana (barely), Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa (hardly), Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and finally South Carolina.

At about 2:49 p.m. Eastern time in South Carolina, some lucky souls in the Palmetto State’s marshes could be the last on American soil to experience the total eclipse. Just after 4 p.m. Eastern, the partial eclipse will end and all of America will again be under the full August sun.

If you don’t live in one of these states, don’t despair: Every American state will experience a partial solar eclipse (although it won’t darken the sky like a total eclipse). In Honolulu, the sun will be about 20 percent covered. In Brownsville, Texas, you’ll see something like a half sun. Here in New York when the maximum eclipse occurs around 2:44 p.m. Eastern, the sun will be just over 70 percent obscured (and here are tips for taking in New York City’s partial eclipse).

But don’t look directly at the partially eclipsed sun.

We can’t emphasize enough that you need special glasses before looking up at the eclipse, lest you risk permanent damage to your eyes. Your sunglasses won’t do the job. Wear your special glasses for viewing during the partial eclipse phases.

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But even those who planned ahead need to make sure their eyewear will offer sufficient protection.

There are reports across the United States of glasses that were handed out but later recalled after vendors questioned the authenticity of their safety certification. Amazon was among the companies to recall some glasses.

Here are some tips on how to determine whether your eyewear is safe.

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Ashley Ann Sander, left, and Alexandra Dowling sell solar eclipse glasses for $10 a pair near Clayton, Ga., on Sunday.

Credit
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

If you’re in the line of totality, you can remove your glasses once the sun is completely blocked and admire the enigmatic disc of the moon and the threads of corona that appear at its edges. Savor these minutes. Put your glasses back on as soon as the moon moves on and the sun begins to reappear.

Maybe you didn’t get eclipse glasses in time — they’re sold out at a lot of places — or maybe you got some that were fraudulent and you had to throw them away. You still have options for eclipse viewing. You can make a pinhole projector with two paper plates — here are some instructions, and a video demonstration of this technique. You can learn even more in our guide to safe eclipse viewing.

How to Watch a Solar Eclipse

What you need to know about eclipses, how to be safe during an eclipse and some fun experiments you can try during this rare event.


Scientists are very excited about this eclipse.

Total solar eclipses are marvelous opportunities to study Earth’s intimate relationship with the sun.

Eclipses happen about once every 18 months. But because Earth’s surface is covered mostly by water, they tend to occur over remote locations that are difficult for scientists to reach with advanced equipment for observation. For most American scientists it is perhaps the most accessible total solar eclipse since the last one to touch the lower 48 states in 1979. And in those 38 years, their equipment and ability to study the phenomena have greatly improved.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the sun’s corona, the thin plasma veil that encases the star, because it burns more than a million degrees hotter than the sun’s surface. Only during totality is the corona visible from Earth.

That’s when astronomers and citizen scientists across the total eclipse’s 3,000-mile long path will focus their attention on the white, wispy crown. They will observe it with telescopes, some as a part of the Citizen CATE project which aims to film totality for 90 minutes across the country. A few scientists will even be collecting images of the corona from airplanes soaring about 45,000 feet in the air.

Another headliner is Earth’s ionosphere, the electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere through which communication and navigation signals move. Scientists will use radio waves from ham radios, GPS sensors and giant radars to investigate how this layer is affected by the sudden darkening caused by the eclipse.

In Salem, Ore., on Sunday, Jay Pasachoff, one of the world’s leading eclipse astronomers, was looking forward to his 34th total solar eclipse.

Working with colleagues, and students from Williams College, Professor Pasachoff rattled off a list of equipment that included almost two dozen Nikon cameras, 33 computers and approximately two dozen telescopes. Asked why so there was so much equipment, he said, “It only lasts two minutes. Something has to work.”

Monday aboard the International Space Station, the crew of astronauts was also getting ready to capture a unique vantage on the eclipse:

— Nicholas St. Fleur and Dennis Overbye

Here are some weather and traffic reports.

On Monday morning, eclipse mania manifested in heavy traffic in some locations as drivers flocked toward spots on the line of totality. Officials from the Wyoming Department of Transportation described heavy traffic traveling north near Cheyenne close to the Colorado border. Grand Teton National Park on the state’s western side posted a video stream showing a long line of cars and recreational vehicles at its Gros Ventre Junction at dawn.

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The National Weather Service forecast favorable skies across the eclipse’s starting path from Oregon through Idaho, pictured, and Wyoming.

Credit
Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

Over the weekend, processions of cars with California license plates streamed northward into Oregon. Some in the stream debated whether it was worth the fuss.

“This is crazy,” Bunlam Chanbowon said at a fast-food restaurant near the California-Oregon border on Sunday as she dined with her family. “It’s only going to last two minutes,” she said of the total eclipse.

Her husband, Daniel, a chemistry teacher who called in sick to work, was unrepentant.

“There are some things you don’t learn from books,” he said.

An early report on Monday from the National Weather Service forecast favorable skies across the eclipse’s starting path from Oregon through Wyoming. The service’s station in Portland posted on Twitter that Oregon’s typically foggy coast could offer clear viewing. Mostly sunny conditions were also expected near Nashville.

In Nebraska, the Weather Service offered hope that some areas would “luck out just enough” to spot the eclipse through clouds.

Debra Respess, from Lincoln, Neb., awoke around 4 a.m. on Monday with her sister to beat the traffic to the Homestead National Monument in Nebraska.

“Hopefully it clears up,” she said, casting a wary eye on the sky.

The station in Paducah, Ky., anticipated hot temperatures, some clouds and the possibility of scattered showers and storms around Southern Illinois, near the eclipse’s point of longest duration. With clouds expected to limit visibility in parts of South Carolina, the station in Charleston tweeted, “No matter what…enjoy the experience!” — Thomas Fuller, Mitch Smith and Henry Fountain

More Reporting on Eclipses

Trapped indoors? We feel your pain.

Maybe you’ve traveled to the perfect place to watch the eclipse. But then the clouds roll in. Or you weren’t able to get away from your job and are stuck far away from the line of totality.

All isn’t lost. There are plenty of places you can stream the eclipse online if you can’t see it with your own eyes — and you might even get a better view.

NASA will stream the event live on a number of platforms, including its official Facebook, Periscope, Twitch and UStream pages, as well as on NASA TV and the official NASA YouTube channel. You can even download the official NASA apps for iPhone and Android.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco will stream the eclipse as well in English and Spanish. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution offers the Smithsonian Eclipse 2017 app for iPhone and Android that’s full of useful information to read leading up to and through the event.

Slooh, an internet-connected telescope service that partners with observatories around the world, will stream the eclipse live from a telescope in Stanley, Idaho, which is right in the path of totality.

CNN will air the eclipse live on TV, and also stream the event on its website. The Science Channel will stream the eclipse on its Facebook page. — Alan Henry

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