On the afternoon of Aug. 21, 2017, a little after 2:30, the sky will get dark, the temperature will drop and the stars will come out. Wild animals might be heading to sleep, and flowers will close their petals.
“A total solar eclipse, I would say, is widely regarded as probably one of the most breathtaking, amazing phenomenon that you can observe from this planet Earth with your own eyes,” said Lika Guhathakurta, a heliophysicist at NASA.
And this eclipse, she said, will probably be one of the most-watched, most-documented and most-studied ever, since it will be visible in a band from Oregon to South Carolina.
This is great for the hundreds of millions of people who will be able to watch it over the course of a little over 90 minutes. It’s also exciting for people who study the sun or the stars.
“The beauty of this eclipse is the whole stretch across the U.S. is about 3,000 miles,” said Shadia Habbal, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.
There are things about the sun’s corona that scientists can only study during a total eclipse, she said. And during this one, since it will cover so much ground in the U.S., there will be many opportunities for research, confirming data and measuring changes over time, as the eclipse moves across the country.
There are also opportunities for citizen science – for volunteers and schools to get involved.
And for people who just want to watch, make sure to look only through special eclipse-viewing glasses or with a pinhole projection, except for when the sun is completely blocked by the moon. Then, says Alex Young, a member of NASA's Heliophysics Science Division, look right at it.
“Just like looking at the full moon, it's completely safe during that brief period, to look at the sun,” he says. “And in fact, you should absolutely look at it directly, to really appreciate and enjoy it.”
The total eclipse will be visible in the northeast corner of Georgia. Around Atlanta, it will be a partial eclipse; at its height, the sun will look like a crescent. Eclipse-watching parties are already being planned around the country, including in the city of Clayton in Rabun County, where the sun will be in total eclipse for more than two and a half minutes.