Total solar eclipse 2017: Everything you need to know, from an astronomer

Posted at 1:48 PM, Aug 04, 2017

The countdown to one of the biggest astronomical events in decades is on.

On Aug. 21, 2017, the best total solar eclipse in 40 years will make its way across the United States, providing skywatchers a rare chance to see the moon pass directly in front of the sun.

If you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse before, there are a few things you should know ahead of time to make sure you safely enjoy the eclipse in its totality.



Dr. Doug Duncan, University of Colorado Boulder astronomer and director of the Fiske Planetarium, offers the following tips for watching the eclipse:

You’ll have to travel to see the full eclipse
While much of the country will see a partial eclipse (at least 75 percent of the sun obscured by the moon), the total eclipse will only be visible in a 70-mile-wide path extending from Oregon to South Carolina. 

It’s a slow process…
Once the moon starts passing in front of the sun, it will take more than an hour for the moon to move directly in front of the sun.

…but blink and you might miss it!
The portion of the eclipse in which the moon totally obscures the sun only lasts about two minutes. Duncan says it will be the “shortest two minutes of your life.”

Eye protection is essential
As long as any bit of the sun is still visible, you can risk damaging your eyes by staring at the eclipse. You can buy special dark glasses made specifically for looking at eclipses, but you can also use a pinhole cut in a piece of card or paper to project the eclipse onto another piece of paper.

It’s a strange sight that’s not to be missed
During the total eclipse, the moon will block much of the sun’s light, so it will be noticeably darker and a few degrees cooler. The sudden darkness can make animals behave in strange ways and Duncan says the eclipse also elicits emotional responses from humans – from cheering and celebrating to screaming and crying.

If you miss this year’s total solar eclipse, the next one to cross the United States will be in April 2024, but it will only cross over the eastern portion of the country. Another eclipse in August 2045 will pass directly over Colorado.

For more information on the eclipse, head over to the Fiske Planetarium’s website.