Get ready: an amazing total solar eclipse is coming in 2017

For the first time in nearly 40 years, stargazers and space enthusiasts in the US will have the rare opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse, an event that is widely recognized as one of the rarest and most spectacular astronomical occurrences visible from the Earth’s surface.

Known as the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse,” the event will take place on August 21 and will mark the first time that a total solar eclipse has occurred above the US mainland since 1979, according to Space.com and Cincinnati Observatory astronomer Dean Regas.

An eclipse just before totality.

An eclipse just before totality.

Regas, who wrote that he personally had been “waiting decades” for the upcoming solar eclipse, is encouraging people to take whatever steps are necessary to witness the event: “Call in sick to work. Play hooky from school. If you need an astronomer’s note, I can provide one. A total solar eclipse will be a sight you will never forget.”

The eclipse will cover a 70-mile (113-kilometer) stretch of land from Oregon to South Carolina, according to Space.com, and promises to be an unforgettable experience, said Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Massachusetts-based Williams College. In fact, Pasachoff told the website that the eclipse would be “a tremendous opportunity… to see the universe change around you.”

Make the drive to see this event (and protect your eyes!)

From our perspective here on the Earth’s surface, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and our home planet, causing the Moon to partially or fully block the Sun. This can only occur at new moon when both the Sun and Moon are in a specific alignment.

This alignment is a straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies – in this case, the Moon, the Sun and the Earth – in a gravitational system, and it is called syzygy. In a total solar eclipse, the disk of the Sun is completely obscured by the Moon. As Space.com explained, total eclipses actually happen every 18 months or so, but most do not occur over populated areas.

The August 2017 total solar eclipse will be the first to have its path of totality lie completely in the US since 1776, experts have told the website. That path will go from the coast of Oregon to Idaho, then onto Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and finally ending in North and South Carolina.

While an estimated 12 million people live within the eclipse’s path of totality, some 220 others are believed to reside within a one-day drive of this band, and they are being encouraged to make the trip to see this once-in-a-lifetime event – and be sure that you use eclipse glasses, solar filters or some other form of protection to keep your eyes safe!

“Though the rest of the continental U.S. will have at least a 55 percent partial eclipse, it won’t ever get dark there, and eye-protection filters would have to be used at all times even to know that the eclipse is happening. The dramatic effects occur only for those in the path of totality,” Pasachoff said. “If you are in that path of totality, you are seeing the main event.”

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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