On August 21st 2017, most Americans will be able to experience a fantastic, and rare astronomical event. Everyone’s excited for it, and it’s already got its own name: The Great American Eclipse.
Solar eclipses are relatively rare occurrences. Total eclipses are even rarer. The Moon, Sun and Earth need to be perfectly aligned, so the Moon perfectly covers the Sun.
Because eclipses are a matter of perspective, in order to see to a total eclipse, a viewer has to be in the right spot at the right time. And of course, there have to be no clouds in the sky.
There have been several eclipses visible from North America in the past decades. The last one to touch the U.S. occurred on July 11th, 1991. It could be observed from Hawaii and the southern tip of California. In some places it lasted up to 6 minutes. Before that, the only eclipse with a comparable range was that of 1979, which was visible throughout 5 states.
Eclipses differ in length because the relative distance between the Sun, the Moon and the Earth is not constant. The further the Moon is, relative to the Earth, the smaller its shadow is going to be. This is will make the 2017 eclipse shorter, since the Moon will appear to move away faster.
What makes this upcoming eclipse so spectacular is the fact that it’s going to be visible from most of U.S. states. The states that are going to enjoy the best view are Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. Those living outside of these states still get to see partial eclipse. The largest city to get a perfect view is Nashville, immediately followed by Atlanta.
The totality will be moving from west to east, meaning that Oregon will be the first to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon. At its peak, totality will last about 3 minutes. The place where one could expect to see it last this long is Carbondale, Illinois, near the mid-point of the trajectory.
The 2017 eclipse is going to start at around 11.25 AM MDT, and end at 2.39 PM EDT. The endpoint however is not on land. The solar eclipse will end its course somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
After this eclipse has passed, Americans will have to wait until April 8th, 2024 to catch the next one. This one will not pass through so many states, but depending on where you position yourself relative to the center line, you can hope to experience it for over 3 minutes.
If you’re not willing to wait that long until your next eclipse, there’s going to be one visible in July, 2019, that’s going to touch the southern-most tip of North America, and will be quietly visible in South America.
Image Source: Wikimedia.