Seeing a total solar eclipse is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. The last total solar eclipse to cross the United States occurred in the year 1918--nearly one hundred years ago. This next event happens during the school hours on Monday, August 21, 2017.
Those who have experienced a total solar eclipse describe it as a "moment of awe": during the 1918 eclipse, millions of Americans stopped what they were doing and looked up to see the sky going dark in the middle of the day! The air grew cool. Animals became confused. Stars suddenly became visible. At the moment of totality, flames of hot gas shooting off the sun's edge became visible to the naked eye.
before the eclipse
Request your free solar eclipse glasses. (Update: Our limited supplies have now run out. We recommend following these instructions to try to find eclipse glasses at other places.)
Check what time you will need to go outside to observe the eclipse. The exact time varies depending on your location: Eclipse Time Checker
- Prep for the lesson (from Mystery Science).
HOW RARE IS THIS?
The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the United States was 1918. To put that into perspective: for most young adults that means even your grandparents didn’t get to see a solar eclipse in their lifetimes. This isn’t really a once-in-a-lifetime event--it’s more like a once-in-two-lifetimes event! That said, there will be one more total solar eclipse in 2024, but it will only cross the eastern U.S. Then the next one to cross the United States won't occur until the year 2045. Don’t miss the 2017 eclipse… it might be your only chance!
WHAT EXACTLY WILL HAPPEN?
A total solar eclipse is when the moon goes completely in front of the sun, blocking out the sun's light during part of the daytime. You'll be able to see this if you’re in a certain path across the US (see map below). When it happens, the sky will go dark--even though it's the middle of the morning time. The air will cool. You will even be able to see some bright stars.
what will i see if i'm not in the path?
Everyone in the contiguous United States will be able to at least see the moon go partly in front of the sun, which is still fascinating (but not nearly as dramatic as if it goes completely in front of the sun). Only those people who are within the path of totality (the grey line on the map below) will be able to see the sun get blocked completely. You can enter your zipcode in the Eclipse Time Checker to find out whether you’ll see a partial eclipse or the total eclipse, and exactly what time to view the event.
IS IT SAFE TO LOOK AT?
In order to look safely at the sun, you need to wear solar eclipse glasses. These are not the same thing as sunglasses. They’re a special type of material that allows only a tiny fraction of the sun’s light to come through, making it safe to look at the sun. Mystery Science and Google are partnering to give away a limited number of free solar eclipse glasses to elementary school classrooms. (Click "Request Free Eclipse Glasses" for more details, including what to do once our limited supplies are exhausted.)
If you are in the path of totality, the only point at which it is safe to take off your solar eclipse glasses is once the moon has completely blocked the sun. But as soon as totality ends, you must immediately put the glasses back on.
are there other ways to view the eclipse without using eclipse glasses?
Solar eclipse glasses are one of the only ways to safely look directly at the sun--this is because they filter out all but 0.003 percent of visible light. That said, there are ways to safely view the eclipse indirectly. Mystery Science has created a step-by-step video that guides students in how to construct their own "pinhole projector," a method of observing the eclipse that doesn't involve looking at the sun.
DO YOU HAVE TEACHING MATERIALS OR LESSON PLANS FOR THE ECLIPSE?
Mystery Science has created an open-and-go lesson about the eclipse which includes videos, discussion prompt, and step-by-step instructions for how to view the eclipse, as well as links to additional resources, including a live stream of the eclipse.