If images of this week’s solar eclipse whetted your appetite for the real thing and you live in the U.S., you don’t have long to wait. In August 2017, a total solar eclipse will be seen in a path that crosses the entire country — the first time in almost 100 years that this has happened.
“The next one’s a really good one,” said David Hathaway, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Center in Silicon Valley. “For most of the U.S., you’re within driving distance of this.”
The eclipse will begin at just after 10 a.m. PDT on Aug. 21, when it envelopes Salem, Oregon, into complete darkness. It will travel across the U.S. through Casper, Wyoming, skirt Kansas City and St. Louis, before arriving in Nashville, Tennessee, at 1:30 p.m. CDT and then Charleston, South Carolina, at around 2:45 p.m. EDT.
Hathaway recommends you plan to see it.
“You must,” he said. “If you can, you must. It’s just such a spectacle in every sense. The sky goes dark in the middle of the day, you see stars, all of the animals know that something is going on, they’ll quiet down, and the ones I’ve been to, all of the people get very quiet.”
If that’s not reason enough, consider this: It’s the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the continental U.S. since 1979, and the next one won’t be until 2024. Plus, the country is sure to go eclipse crazy for the day, and you’ll regret not having made the effort to see it.
For scientists, total solar eclipses are great occasions to see the Sun’s corona. That’s the upper level of the Sun’s atmosphere and, for reasons no one understands, it is hotter than the area closest to the surface.
A better understanding of the Sun is important because it can affect us like never before. In addition to being a source of heat and light, the Sun regularly blows off particles into the galaxy during events called coronal mass ejections.
“That stuff, when it strikes the near-Earth environment, can take out electronics on satellites, it can produce surge of current through power lines on Earth and take out transformers, take out power, and now that we’re a technological civilization it can really affect us more than it did before because of its effect on our technology,” said Hathaway.
So eclipses provide a way to better understand the atmosphere and that could mean a better understanding of the way the Sun works.