This week’s total solar eclipse is a bad-news, good-news, even-better-news situation for skywatchers in the United States.
Solar eclipses are must-see astronomical events that occur when the moon is positioned just right to block the sun’s disk, as seen from Earth. The eclipse that unfolds on Tuesday is the only time during 2016 that anyone can see the sun totally blotted out.
The bad news is that the total eclipse is visible only in the Asia-Pacific region. The moon’s shadow rolls eastward across the Indian and Pacific oceans, beginning at sunrise just west of Indonesia and ending at sunset just east of Hawaii. If you’re in the United States, you’ll totally miss seeing totality in person.
Get a peek at the eclipse online
The good news is that in this age of the Internet, you can still get a peek online. The Slooh virtual observatory will be streaming live video from Indonesia and other locales along the eclipse’s path starting at 3 p.m. PT Tuesday.
Slooh astronomer Paul Cox will be host for the webcast, with solar expert Lucie Green and astronomer Bob Berman among the guests. Viewers can ask questions using the Twitter hashtag #SloohEclipse. Also, watch for #ShadeUp pictures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
The Exploratorium is planning live eclipse coverage from the coral island of Woleai in Micronesia. The telescope feed will run from 4 to 7:15 p.m. PT Tuesday, and there’ll be a webcast hosted by the Exploratorium’s experts from 5 to 6:15 p.m. PT. If you’re a Second Life user, you can watch the eclipse alongside other avatars on the virtual world’s Exploratorium Island from 4 to 7:30 p.m. SLT / PT Tuesday.
NASA TV will be simulcasting the Exploratorium’s webcast (on its public and media channels) as well as the live telescope views without commentary (on its online education channel). The space agency is also providing updates via its @NASASunEarth account on Twitter. You can submit questions using the hashtag #eclipse2016.
Even before the eclipse starts, NASA’s experts are keeping busy explaining the science behind eclipses: Solar scientists from NASA’s Marshall Space Agency are due to host a Facebook Q&A at 11 a.m. PT today, and a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” chat at 10 a.m. PT Tuesday.
Get ready for coming attractions
Although this’ll be the last total solar eclipse of 2016, annular solar eclipses are coming up on Sept. 1 (visible from the Atlantic, Africa and the Indian Ocean) and next Feb. 26 (visible from southern stretches of the Pacific, South America, the Atlantic and Africa). During an annular eclipse, the moon covers up everything but a thin “ring of fire” on the sun’s disk.
All this builds up to the even better news for next year: On Aug. 21, 2017, there’ll be a total solar eclipse that’s visible from Oregon to the Carolina coast. It’s not too early to start planning your strategy for seeing the “all-American eclipse,” says Fred Espenak, eclipse expert extraordinaire at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
It’s also not too late. Some folks have already scrambled to reserve hotel rooms in the exact center of the eclipse’s path, but during a recent visit to Seattle, Espenak said that’s not necessary. For example, St. Louis and Kansas City are right on the edge of the total-eclipse zone.
“They’re big cities with lots of facilities, so logistically, they’d be good jumping-off points with hotel rooms,” Espenak said.
Westerners needn’t go as far as St. Louis. In fact, the typical weather outlook for August is slightly better in the West than in the East. The Oregon cities of Madras, Salem, Corvallis and Albany are among Espenak’s favorite prospects for totality. You could even stay in Portland or Eugene, and hit the road for the best view.
In addition to thinking about where to go, think about ordering the solar filter glasses and camera filters you’ll need to watch the partial phase of the eclipse safely. You might want to get a few extra for your friends: There’s sure to be a run on the glasses in the weeks before the eclipse.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the first total solar eclipse to hit the Lower 48 states since 1979. Because the total-eclipse zone cuts right through the middle of the country, “anybody who really wants to see this eclipse should be able to see it,” Espenak said.
And you should really want to see totality with your own eyes. “It’s foolish to squander an opportunity like 2017,” Espenak said. “Seeing a 95 percent eclipse is nothing compared to a total eclipse. It’s like the lottery. If you get four out of five numbers, you don’t win the big prize. You’ve got to get 100 percent.”