What Is A Solar Eclipse? Here’s How And When To Watch It

What Is A Solar Eclipse? Here’s How And When To Watch It
intographics / Pixabay

The day of the solar eclipse has finally arrived, so now that you’ve shelled out money for your special eclipse glasses so you can watch it, you’re ready. (Hopefully you weren’t relying on the glasses Amazon recalled recently). Those who live in areas that have already witnessed the solar eclipse may be thinking the event was over-hyped, but if you live in a part of the globe that has yet to witness it, the event is still worth your time.

After all, this is literally the eclipse of the century and a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people. If you live in the U.S. and you’re just now looking for info on the solar eclipse, you probably live in a state that didn’t see total darkness and unfortunately, you missed it. The main event is over for Americans. However, other parts of the world can still catch the eclipse, so read on for the details.

Is the solar eclipse worth all the hype?

A solar eclipse is, quite simply, when the moon passes between Earth and the sun and blocks out its rays for a time. Eclipses can be total or partial, and the last time the U.S. mainland has been able to see a total solar eclipse was in February 1979. The reason this can aptly be billed as the eclipse of the century is because it’s the first time in 99 years that the path of totality exclusively cut across the U.S. mainland, moving all the way from the West to the East, according to ABC. This solar eclipse is also a big deal because it’s the first time since 1776 that there has been a continent-wide eclipse only visible from the U.S.

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Many articles about it that were published in the weeks leading up to today painted a vivid picture of it. The writers waxed on about how the sky would get so dark that stars and planets would be visible. The temperature would noticeably drop, and suddenly, it would be as dark as nighttime.

The entire event lasts only about 90 minutes, while the period of totality only lasts about two to three minutes, depending on where in the world you live.

The path of totality creates a dramatic event

If you don’t live within the path of totality, you might still be wondering when the main event will begin even if the time is already passed. Even some areas that were supposed to have a large percentage of the sun covered didn’t necessarily get particularly dark. Here on Chicago’s South side, clouds really put a damper on the viewing effort, and despite the forecast that more than 80% of the sun would be covered, it didn’t get all that dark.

The path of totality, as it’s called, is about a 70-mile-wide line arcing from Oregon, through Nebraska, and down to South Carolina. This path refers to the path the moon’s shadow will take as it passes between the sun and Earth. Only those who are lucky enough to live along that line actually got to experience a few minutes of pitch-black nighttime in the middle of the day.

Those who did experience report that the temperature dropped by about 12 degrees in some areas along the path of totality. Even those who don’t live along the path of totality do get to experience the eclipse; it just isn’t as dramatic as it is along that path.

Here’s how and when to watch the solar eclipse

The solar eclipse started on the West Coast of the U.S. a little after 10 a.m. Pacific time. As the sun moved across the skies, the eclipse ended on the East Coast just a short time ago, right around 3 p.m. Eastern. Special protective eyewear is necessary for viewing the eclipse because you will go blind if you look directly at the sun. It’s very tempting to look up at the sun as the moon passes over it, but astronomers everywhere urge people to protect their eyes because this danger is real.

If you live in the U.S., unfortunately you’ve just missed the solar eclipse, but people in other parts of the world may still be able to catch a partial eclipse. In the U.K., the scene will be much less dramatic, but still of interest. The main event will begin not long before the sun sets, right around 8 p.m. It will look like the moon has just nibbled on the sun. Unfortunately, the weather is looking rather cloudy, so Brits may feel like the cosmos has disappointed them. Additionally, only about 4% of the sun will be blocked.

U.S. residents who missed the solar eclipse can still watch videos of it, which may actually be a good thing if you don’t have protective eyewear. Space.com has a lot of excellent videos of it. NASA also has some excellent news coverage, including live streams that are still going on (as of this writing) with reactions from those who got to watch the solar eclipse. The U.S. agency also has some amazing videos and photos of the event, so if you missed it or if clouds obscured your view, this will at least let you see it, even if you didn’t witness it with your own eyes.

Here’s when the next total solar eclipse will be

Perhaps watching the videos will inspire you to plan even further ahead for the next total solar eclipse. The next such eclipse that will be visible in the U.S. is in 2024 (while 38 years have passed between the last two total eclipses of the sun in the U.S.). It will follow a different path touching different cities than those that got a front row seat to this year’s eclipse.

According to CNN, the eclipse on April 8, 2024 will have peaks lasting over 4 minutes, while this year’s eclipse peaked at only about 2 minutes in post of the country. The path of totality for the 2024 eclipse will pass through Austin and Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland and Akron, Ohio; and Buffalo and Rochester, New York. Parts of Mexico and eastern Canada will also be in the path of totality.


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