5 Tips for Nerding Out On This Year's Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017 families have the unique opportunity to experience a rare solar phenomena: a total solar eclipse. Here’s how to do it right.

This year families have the unique opportunity to experience a rare solar phenomena: a total solar eclipse. While eclipses happen in some part of the world with regularity, this year’s eclipse will be visible in just about every part of the United States on Monday, August 21. Here are some ways you can make the most out of this amazing event:

1 | Make sure you can see it

Every part of the contiguous US will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, with the path of totality ranging from Salem Oregon to Charleston South Carolina. The first available viewing spot will be Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Over the next 90 minutes, the eclipse will make its way along the center of the country ending in Charleston, SC at 2:48 p.m. A little after 4 p.m. the eclipse will be completed.
The Los Angeles Times has an online interactive map where you can type in your address and see how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to view from your area.
Although hotel rooms and campgrounds along the total eclipse areas are filing up quickly, you can host your own Eclipse 2017 party wherever you are.

2 | Have protective eyewear on-hand

Even though the sun appears darker, the harmful rays emitted by the sun can still damage your eyes. Never look directly at an eclipse. Even wearing dark sunglass won’t protect your eyes.
Eclipse glasses look similar to movie 3D glasses, yet they are very different. If you purchase eclipse-viewing glasses in your local store, check to be sure they meet the specifications set forth by NASA:

  • Appropriate eclipse glasses will have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard printed on them
  • Also printed somewhere on the glasses will be the manufacturer’s name and address
  • Do not use glasses if they are more than three years old or have scratched or wrinkled lenses

For craftier families, another option to view the eclipse is a simple homemade projector:

  • Use two pieces of white card stock or even two white paper plates
  • Use a thumbtack to make a tiny hole in the center of one piece of paper
  • With your back towards the sun, hold the paper with the hole over your shoulder so that the sun is shining on the paper
  • Hold the second sheet of paper at a distance to act as a screen
  • An inverted image of the sun will appear on the second paper

A  box projector is a little more involved but still simple enough for older children to create.
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3 | Prep the kids in advance

It’s good for little ones to have a basic understanding of the solar eclipse. Here’s a very simple, kid-friendly explanation: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun causing a shadow to fall on certain portions of the earth.
The moon orbits the earth once a month, and eclipses happen when the moon lines up exactly with the earth and the sun. Eclipses do not take place every month because the orbits of the moon and earth are tilted at an angle.

4 | Cloudy day backup plan

If you are lucky enough to live directly in the path, a simple drive a few miles away might be enough to catch a break in the clouds. Totality – the short period when the sun is completely covered – only last a couple minutes, but the full phase of the eclipse takes about two hours.
Alternatively, you can watch a live stream of the eclipse at NASA.gov. No special viewing glasses are required for watching the eclipse online.

5 | Sneak in a little education before the big day

Younger children, about elementary school age, will learn a lot and have fun with “Where Did the Sun Go? Myths and Legends of Solar Eclipses Around the World Told with Poetry and Puppetry” by Janet Cameron Hoult.
For middle school, my teacher friends recommend “When The Sun Goes Dark” by Andrew Franknoi.
Older teens and young adults will find more technical aspects as well as a history of how eclipses have influenced mythology and religion in “Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets” by Tyler Nordgren.
If you miss this year’s eclipse, your next chance to see a solar eclipse in the United States will be April 8, 2024.