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Aug 18 2017
by Rina Lee

Everything You Need To Know About the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

By Rina Lee - Aug 18 2017

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will sweep a path of eerie midday darkness across the continental United States.

Although a solar eclipse occurs approximately once every 18 months, experts predict that the chance of viewing a total solar eclipse from any given point on the Earth's surface is about once in 375 years. In other words, the last time a total solar eclipse had been seen from the same places we will see it from on Monday might have been in the year 1642, and the next time may possibly be in 2392.

So why not make the best of this truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Here are five points that summarize everything you need to know about this upcoming natural phenomenon. Let's not wait four more centuries for a do-over, shall we? 

1. Am I in the path of totality?


First of all, the path of totality refers to the relatively thin ribbon, around 70 miles wide, which will fall under the shadow of the moon-blocked sun. Running across the continental US from west coast to east coast, this path of totality is the only region where you will be able to view the total solar eclipse. 

If you live in Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina or South Carolina – you’re in luck! Find out if your cities will fall under the sun’s shadow of totality through NASA’s total solar eclipse interactive map

However, if your city, state or even country doesn’t lie under this thin path of totality, there is no need for despair! Everyone in North America, as well as parts of South America, Africa and Europe, will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse. Isn't that amazing?

2. What time will I be able to see the total eclipse?


The moon will slowly begin to cover the sun at Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 9:05 a.m. PDT and will achieve complete totality at 10:16 a.m. PDT. Over the next hour and a half, the solar eclipse will course a path of totality through various cities in the 14 states mentioned above, and finally depart from the U.S. at 4:09 p.m. EDT. 

See the chart from NASA below for more specific information on the start and end times of the eclipse, as well as the start and end times of totality. 

NASA Eclipse Resources

Anyone living in Carbondale, Illinois? As you can tell from the chart above, that’s where you will be able to experience the longest duration of totality – two minutes and 40 seconds.

For those of you who do not live in the path of totality, you will be able to view the start and end times of your local partial eclipse through, again, NASA’s interactive map. Simply click on whichever region of the map you live in.

3. How can I protect myself?


The only time that the Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during complete totality. It is never safe to look at a partial eclipse without the proper equipment and techniques. According to NASA, even when 99% of the sun's surface is obscured by the moon, the intensity of the remaining unblocked crescent will be enough to result in a retinal burn, which may lead to permanent blindness.

So, why take a chance at all? Even if you’re planning on gazing into the face of the darkened sun only during the short interval of complete totality, there is still a possibility that your watch may be inaccurate or out of sync. There is also a possibility that you may be held so wonder-struck that you’ll forget to look away when your timer beeps out the end of totality. Dr. B. Ralph Chou, associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Optometry, claims that retinal damage can occur faster than the observer can move the eye. 

Do not chance it. Do not take unnecessary risks. Instead, consider buying certified solar filters or eclipse glasses, which are the only safe ways to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially-eclipsed sun. Anything else, including sunglasses, smoked glass, cameras, binoculars, telescope, photographic film and filters and polarizing filters, are all unsafe and will result in a retinal burn.

However, if you do not wish to purchase solar filters or eclipse glasses, a fun and inexpensive alternative to safely view the eclipse is to make your very own solar viewing projector! All you will need are an empty box of cereal, aluminum foil, thumbtacks, tape and scissors.  

4. Do I need to protect my pets?


At a recent NASA news conference, Dr. Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri, stated, “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun, and therefore don’t damage their eyes. On this day they’re not going to do it, either.”

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, however. As points out, although it is quite unlikely that your pet will ignore its natural instincts to look away from the sun, there is a slim possibility that he or she may be interested to see what everyone else is so excitedly pointing up at.

My advice: Let’s not take any unnecessary risks. Why regret what could have been prevented? So maybe keep your pet indoors with the curtains drawn during the eclipse, just in case. 

5. How can I safely take pictures of the eclipse?


Unlike Monday’s solar eclipse, which, according to this interactive map, will last around three hours in some regions – not to mention its longest projected duration of totality, which will almost reach a full three minutes  – your photographs can last nearly forever.

Reminder: You should never gaze at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device, even while using your eclipse glasses or a hand-held solar viewer, as these devices will concentrate the solar rays, damaging the filter and your eyes, resulting in possible blindness.

Instead, NASA advises all eclipse photographers to attach a solar filter in front of their camera lens (or other desired optical device). However, do not use the filter if it appears to be scratched or damaged in any way. It’s also always a good idea to consult an expert, if you know one, before using solar filters.

My recommendation: Take a selfie! As you will be looking at the screen of your camera or phone, rather than through the lens itself, taking a selfie is a fun and safe way to capture the eclipse without compromising your eyesight. You will also have your back to sun as well, another added safety bonus.

In order to get the best possible photography results, The Telegraph recommends turning off your flash and autofocus, and reducing your exposure levels. You might want to also consider using a tripod for additional stability or attaching an external lens for a superior quality of zoom.

And please remember: If you are not merely taking a selfie, but wish to photograph the eclipse head-on, you must attach a solar filter in front of your lens to protect your eyes. Never gaze at the sun through an unfiltered optical device, even while wearing your solar eclipse glasses.

Get ready for Monday and happy eclipse viewing!

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash 

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Rina Lee - University of Toronto

Rina is an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and the associate editor at Fresh U. You can contact her at

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