'Great American Total Solar Eclipse' Is Just 6 Months Away; Here's Where, When and How To Watch

Pam Wright
Published: February 17, 2017

In just six months, Americans will have the opportunity to experience the first total eclipse of the sun in nearly four decades. 

On Aug. 21, the "Great American Total Solar Eclipse" will mesmerize Americans across a 70-mile path from coast to coast, including states from Oregon to South Carolina.

According to astronomer Jay Passachoff of Williams College in Massachusetts, people lucky enough to be in the path of the total eclipse are in for a unique and unforgettable experience. 

"It's a tremendous opportunity," Pasachoff told Space.com. "It's a chance to see the universe change around you."

For about two minutes, the moon will completely block the sun in the 70-mile path, turning day into an eery, dark twilight. Even stars will become visible. The event from start to finish will take about three hours. 

The path of the Aug. 21, 2017 total eclipse of the sun.
(Fred Espenak/NASA GSFC)

First Total Eclipse in Four Decades

The last time a total solar eclipse darkened the U.S. mainland was on Feb. 26, 1979.

What makes next year's eclipse even more unique is that it will be the first total eclipse that will be "readily available to people from coast to coast," Pasachoff said.

That path goes from the Oregon coast through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Space.com's columnist Joe Rao notes that 12 million people or so live within the narrow viewing band, but there are another 220 million who reside within a day's drive of it.

(PHOTOS: The Total Solar Eclipse)

Pasachoff said the event is so unique and memorable that he advises people to make the journey to the narrow path and experience this amazing celestial event.

"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 in a statement.

"If you are in that path of totality, you are seeing the main event, but if you are off to the side — even where the sun is 99 percent covered by the moon — it is like going up to the ticket booth of a baseball or football stadium but not going inside," he added.

How to Watch Safely

According to exporatorium.edu, no one should ever view the sun with the naked eye or by looking through optical devices such as binoculars or telescopes. 

One of the best ways to view an eclipse is with a pinhole camera. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a great explanation on how to make one here

(MORE: 'Great American Eclipse' Expected to Treat U.S. to Amazing Views in 2017)

Exploratorium.edu also has some other great ideas on how to safely view the eclipse on its website.

For more precise details on the path and where to best watch the eclipse state by state, check out eclipse2017.org's website.

MORE: Solar Eclipse, May 10, 2013

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Featured Blogs

Meteorology of Saturday's Colombian Flood Disaster That Killed 254

By Dr. Jeff Masters
April 3, 2017

At least 254 people were killed in the in the city of Mocoa (population 40,000) in southwest Colombia near the border of Ecuador early Saturday, when torrential rains triggered a debris flow on a nearby mountain that surged into the town as a huge wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris. The disaster is the fourth deadliest weather-related disaster in Colombia’s recorded history.

Iconic American Destination Virtually Isolated for Rest of Year

By Christopher C. Burt
March 24, 2017

Half of the village of Big Sur, on the coast of central California, has lost its only access to the north following the demolition of the flood-damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge along State Route 1 (also Rt. 1 or SR 1) on March 19. Although Rt. 1 to the south of Big Sur has reopened to traffic (after mud and rock slides were cleared) it is a long 70-mile journey along the windy but spectacular highway to Cambria, the next town of any significance where supplies can be had. CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) estimates it will take 6-9 months to rebuild a new bridge over the canyon.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.