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On August 21st, 2017, the US will experience a very rare event: A total solar eclipse that will be visible in 14 states across the country, from the Northwest to the East Coast. A total eclipse hasn’t been visible in an area this large for almost a century.
Total solar eclipses happen only when the moon lines up to pass perfectly between the sun and the earth. They are especially spectacular because, with the sun’s rays blocked by the moon, all the other light it usually outshines is suddenly visible. The sun’s corona, its normally hidden glowing atmosphere, will be seen along with the light of other stars. The day will turn into twilight, and for a few minutes, it will be almost completely dark. States north or south of the total eclipse belt will experience a partial eclipse, where the moon obscures some of the sun but not all of it. These are more common, but there hasn’t been one visible from the United States mainland since the 1970s.
The US is the only country where the eclipse will be total, and lots of visitors are expected to travel to the best observation areas. For those who miss the moment, NASA is planning to film the eclipse using several planes and spacecraft and broadcast it lives. Even the astronauts on the International Space Station will get involved. The agency will also plan activities across the country to celebrate the celestial event.
NASA warns that viewing the eclipse without eye protection is only safe for the minute or two that the sun will be obscured. Ordinary sunglasses do not block the light well enough to make it safe to look directly at the sun. Their recommendation is to always wear special solar viewing glasses when looking at the eclipse.