Your Guide to the Great American Solar Eclipse

by STEM Scouts

On August 21, 2017 millions of people in the United States will witness a rare astronomical beauty—a total solar eclipse. The path of totality will spread across the entire contiguous United States, deeming it “The Great American Eclipse”. Don’t miss your chance to witness this celestial event that has been astounding mankind for generations. Here’s your guide to understanding, preparing for and viewing the Great American Solar Eclipse!

What causes a solar eclipse?

One strange cosmic coincidence is that the Sun and Moon look to be the same size in our sky. In reality, the Sun is 400 times bigger than our moon. However, the Moon is about 400 times closer to Earth—making it appear to be the same size. This phenomenon is what allows solar eclipses to happen. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s path leads it directly between the Earth and the Sun.

How often do solar eclipses happen?

Solar eclipses happen somewhere on Earth every year or two. But, they happen in very remote parts of the world and most people only get to see partial or annular solar eclipses. Catching a total solar eclipse is a different story. The path of totality is extremely narrow, so you have to be situated perfectly to catch a total eclipse. The last time anyone in the contiguous United States witnessed a total solar eclipse was in 1979. But, this will be one of the first paths of totality to travel across the entire United States, coast to coast, in nearly 100 years!

How should I prepare?

First of all, if you have the ability to travel into the path of totality, do it. Partial eclipses are interesting, but not uncommon. However, NASA calculates that it will take 1,000 years for everywhere in the United States to see a total solar eclipse—so don’t wait for one to come to you.

For the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eye protection in order to safely view it. You can purchase “eclipse glasses” or solar viewers from companies like Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical or TSE 17. These options all meet the ISO 12312-2 standard. An alternative is to create your own easy pinhole projector. You can also try local businesses, such as science centers or visitor centers, but if you choose to get glasses from a big box store, be absolutely certain that it meets the protective requirements.


With a partial solar eclipse, don’t look at the eclipse through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or any other device without proper eye protection. You can purchase a solar filter for your telescope or a solar telescope to see the phenomenon up close.

Where can I view the solar eclipse?

The majors cities along the path of totality include:

  • Corvallis, Albany and Lebanon, Oregon
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Casper, Wyoming
  • Grand Island and Lincoln, Nebraska
  • St. Joseph, Missouri
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Greenville, South Carolina
  • Columbia, South Carolina

Image via

STEM Scouts is offered in various communities throughout the school year. These councils are lucky enough to be located in, or a short driving distance from, the path of totality!

When can I view it?

You can check out NASA’s Interactive Map to find out exactly when the eclipse will be visible over your city.


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