Ring of Fire

An onlooker watches an annular solar eclipse from New Mexico.

For the past few years it seems that August is the month to amaze and astonish on the astronomical front. Although the Perseid Meteor Shower happens annually, last year there were an unusually high number of meteor “outbursts” because Jupiter’s gravity has tugged some streams of comet material closer to Earth.

While solar eclipses aren’t technically rare, an annular solar eclipse is more so, when the moon is too far from Earth to obscure the sun completely, leaving the sun’s edges exposed and producing the ‘ring of fire’ effect. What’s particularly special about the upcoming August 21st eclipse is the path from which it can be viewed.

The August eclipse will be the first to go coast to coast across the U.S. since 1918, offering viewing opportunities for millions of people.

Sky-watchers across the United States are gearing up for the best cosmic spectacle in nearly a century, when a total solar eclipse will race over the entire country for the first time since 1918. On August 21, tens of millions of lucky people will be able to watch the moon completely cover the sun and turn day into night for a few fleeting minutes.

The main event will be visible from a relatively narrow path, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. In between, the total eclipse will cross multiple cities in 12 states, prompting plans for countless watch parties, cosmic-themed tours, and scientific observations. (Also see “100 Years of Eclipse-Chasing Revealed in Quirky Pictures.”)


While many people will be traveling to be sure they can see the moon fully blot out the sun, viewers in other parts of the U.S., as well as the rest of North America and parts of Central and South America, will get to enjoy a partial eclipse, when the moon appears to take a bite out the sun.

…the August 21 eclipse will cross the U.S. from coast to coast, with totality visible from several major cities and other locations that are easily accessible to millions of people. The last time this happened was in June 1918, when the path of totality crossed the country from Washington State to Florida.

In addition to attracting record numbers of viewers, easy access to the August event will be a boon to scientists who use eclipses to study the sun’s upper atmosphere, or corona. This mysterious region extends for millions of miles into space but is so faint that it is usually lost in the glare of the star’s disk. During an eclipse, the bright star is covered up, allowing astronomers on the ground to explore the corona.

In August, the total eclipse will be visible from a 70-mile-wide corridor stretching about 2,500 miles diagonally from west to east. Depending on where along this pathway you are, the moon will cover the entire sun for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

The path begins in Oregon and crosses through portions of Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina before ending in South Carolina.

Click here for more viewing information.

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