On August 21, 2017, observers across America will witness a special astronomical event: A total eclipse of the sun.
Although total solar eclipses occur pretty regularly (about every 18 months) somewhere on Earth, they are usually only visible across a relatively narrow swath of land. The last time a total solar eclipse was visible in the US was over 35 years ago, on February 26, 1979.
According to NASA, “After the August 2017 total solar eclipse, the next annular solar eclipse that can be seen in the continental United States will be on October 14, 2023 which will be visible from Northern California to Florida. Following this, we will have a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 visible from Texas to Maine.” (An annular eclipse is not as spectacular as a total eclipse, but still an amazing sight.)
Unlike all other solar eclipses, you can observe a total solar eclipse without special glasses, during the few minutes of totality. The photograph at the top of this story was taken by Visual Terrain President and CFO David Green, during the total solar eclipse of 2006, in the Sahara Desert outside Tobruk, Libya.
For lighting designers, a total solar eclipse offers many exciting lighting effects you won’t see anywhere else: The planets may be visible, and even some stars, in mid-morning. Your shadow may appear with such high resolution, you will be able to count the hairs on your arm… but only on one side of your body! The other side will be completely blurry. If you are lucky, in the seconds before totality, you will see the moon’s shadow rushing toward you at 1,600MPH. Most majestically, the sun is replaced by a black disk, surrounded by a glowing corona that pulsates and dances as if it were alive.
Now, some of you may think that you remember you may have seen a total solar eclipse once, when you were a kid, but you aren’t sure. As the famous astronomer, Edwin Krupp of Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory, once said, “If you think you may have seen a solar eclipse, you didn’t. Because once you see one, you will never forget it.”
If you remember seeing an eclipse, and you had to use special glasses, it wasn’t a total solar eclipse. If you remember seeing an eclipse, and it was at night, it was a lunar eclipse! If you remember seeing an eclipse, and you didn’t see planets or stars, and sun wasn’t blacked out in the sky, and you looked at the eclipse through a pinhole, or a box with a hole in it, it was a partial or an annular eclipse.
Fortunately, if you can’t make it to see the eclipse, there will be live streams available all over the world.
For more information on the solar eclipse, and how you may be able to view it, see the following links: