What is a Total Solar Eclipse?

It’s the most amazing natural event you could hope to witness, but if you want your moment with the Sun, start planning now

A Total Solar Eclipse is the most arresting astronomical event of them all, and it’s coming to America on Monday 21, August 2017. The Moon’s shadow will take 90 minutes to race across the USA from coast-to-coast – Oregon to South Carolina – for the first time since 1918, giving a glimpse to anyone standing on or near the Path of Totality.

A rare celestial event, a Total Solar Eclipse occurs when a New Moon crosses the Sun as we see it, throwing a Moon-shadow onto the planet. If you stand under the path of that shadow, all of the Sun’s rays will be blocked out for a few minutes, and you’ll experience darkness in the day – even if it’s cloudy.

However, those few minutes – called Totality – are about a lot more than darkness. During Totality you can remove your solar safety glasses and gaze at the Sun’s powerful, pulsing corona visible around the edges of the Moon. What a pretty sight! Explosions on the Sun’s surface are also sometimes visible, as well as beads of sunlight pouring through the valleys of the Moon. It’s just a stunning thing to see. A few minutes later, the Sun emerges from behind the Moon, causing a flash of light called the ‘diamond ring‘. The solar safety glasses go back on, and it’s all over.

You just watched the Solar System line-up. It’s humbling, it’s magical, and for many eclipse-chasers, it’s a highly emotional moment.

If you want your moment with the Sun, you need to get cracking and choose a viewing spot as close to the centre of that Moon-shadow as possible – called the Path of Totality – which will ensure that you (a) get the maximum length of Totality, and (b) get to witness Totality at all!

Many of the millions of Americans who live within two hour’s drive of the Path of Totality will get it wrong, stand in a bad place, and miss the whole thing.

Don’t be that guy.

Photo credit: Nick Glover, used with permission

If you want a guaranteed place to stand for USA eclipse 2017, just browse 100 Best Places in the USA to Watch the Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017 ($4.45) or design your own eclipse road trip using the USA Eclipse 2017 Travel Guide ($2.84) and you’re set!

Or if you’re thinking of camping check out our ebook: USA Eclipse 2017 Camping & RV Guide: More than 100 festivals, campsites & RV Parks for the Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017.

Jamie Carter is a travel journalist, eclipse-chaser and author of the acclaimed A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide, published by Springer (2015).