Q&A: Do you have a question about the total solar eclipse coming in August?

Aug 01, 2017

Washington Post reporters Angela Fritz and Sarah Kaplan were online Tuesday, August 1 with Michael Kirk, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, answering all your questions about the eclipse.

Want to read more? Catch up on our latest eclipse coverage:

- A total solar eclipse is happening Aug. 21, and here’s what you need to know

- Here’s every total solar eclipse happening in your lifetime. Is this year your best chance?

- You'll need special glasses to see the solar eclipse. Here's where to get them free.

Hey everyone! We're so happy to be hosting this solar eclipse live chat. Hit us with your questions and we'll make sure you get all the answers. 

If I walk around outside during the eclipse, should I always wear the eclipse glasses? And maybe a baseball cap or other hat with a brim? Can you actually see enough through the eclipse glasses to walk? Also, what time is the eclipse in the Washington D.C. area?

This is a great question -- and a really important answer. 

There's nothing different about the sun or the solar radiation during the eclipse. If you don't care about seeing the eclipse, you can go on with your life as you otherwise would -- no glasses needed.

The reason we tell people to make sure to wear their glasses is because you should never stare at the sun, since it will damage your eyes. But you can't see the eclipse if you don't stare at the sun, right? This is where the special glasses come in. They filter out A LOT of the incoming light so you can actually see the moon covering up the sun without damaging your eyes.

As we said, if you don't want to look at the eclipse, you don't have to wear any protective eyewear.

To answer the second part of your question, the peak eclipse in Washington, D.C., is 2:42 p.m. ET.

What's the difference between being in a place like say, Portland, Oregon, versus an hour south in the path of totality? Will the experience be markedly different?

Your experience will be entirely different.  Just because you are in 90% of totality, you don't get 90% of the experience.

Dr. Kirk is right. Portland is not in the path of totality, so folks there will just see a partial eclipse -- about 90 percent coverage of the sun. It'll look interesting, but it won't compare to the total eclipse you'll experience inside the path of totality. The difference between a partial and a total solar eclipse is literally night and day.  I've never seen an eclipse (this is my first!) but veteran eclipse chasers say that it's one of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the world. When the sun is totally covered, you can see the corona (the sun's hot, dim outer atmosphere), which looks like a halo around it. You'll also see "diamond rings" of light just around the edge of the moon.  If you have the time and resources to get to the path of totality, you totally should.

How will the eclipse effect the weather?

If you're in the path of totality, you'll notice a sharp temperature drop. It's basically going to feel like the sun has set. 

For people in the "partial-eclipse zone," things will cool down but not as dramatically.

These changes will happen because there will be less solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth, which means temperatures will fall. Check out this excellent animation of how incoming solar radiation will change as the eclipse moves across the U.S.

I bought "Eclipser Safe Solar Glasses" for $1.00 per pair...do you consider these safe to use during the event?

The key things to look for on solar eclipse glasses is an ISO certification. Specifically you want to see ISO 12312-2 certification, meaning that they are designed to look at the sun. In some European eclipse glasses there is a CE certification which is also acceptable. 

Humans take precautions when watching the eclipse. They protect their eyes with special glasses. My question is about family pets, like dogs. Should they wear special glasses to protect their eyes?

You only need to wear protective glasses if you're looking directly at the sun. So unless your dog is an astronomy buff who will try to stare at the sun, he or she should be fine. The purpose of eclipse glasses is not to protect you from sunlight-- the sun's radiation during the eclipse will be the same as ever. Rather, the glasses allow you to look directly at the sun without hurting your eyes. The reason you are hearing so much about them in the run up to Aug. 21 is that millions of people will be looking up to watch the spectacle, and we all want to make sure you do so safely. 

How would you suggest taking pictures of the eclipse with an iPhone? Is there a filter that can be bought or made to go over the lens to take clear pictures, prevent glare and show contrast?

Good timing! We just published a detailed guide on this topic earlier this morning. Check it out here.

Where is the closest place to D.C. to see the solar eclipse ��☁️��??!! Thank you.

If you're a D.C. resident driving to the path of totality, your best destination is probably Columbia, SC. It's only a 7.5 hour drive from Washington, and they're putting on a huge weekend-long festival for the event. Columbia is also a big city connected to several major highways, so it should be easier to find a place to stay. That said, be prepared for major traffic (and potentially high room rates) no matter where you go. 

Good afternoon, we know that the moon affects tides. Will the tides be affected in any way by the eclipse or is it just the moon phase that matters?

Tides are caused by the pull of the moon and the sun's gravity. It creates a bulge in the ocean. When the moon and the sun are both lined up, the ocean feels their combined gravity. So yes, tides will be higher. If you're familiar with tide lingo, they will be "spring tides," which is the tide just after a new or full moon.

NOAA has some great resources on tides, including this informational page, and a current tide and water-level tracker.

Where will totality occur?

Totality will occur along a path from the Oregon coast to South Carolina. It's going to pass through a few major cities. If you're on a desktop computer, this is the best map we've found. It uses Google Maps so you can zoom around and see what towns and cities will be in the path.

What is your advice for someone who wants to see the eclipse, but has young kids? We have an 18 month old and 3 year old; I think the 3 year old can be trusted to keep her glasses on if looking at the sun, but I can't say the same for the 18 month old. Is it reasonable to assume that he'll be oblivious and won't be looking at the sun anyway, just as people normally don't look at the sun? Or are there any other precautions we should take? I don't want to miss my own opportunity to see the eclipse.

For younger children, I would recommend keeping them in the shade and pointing out the crescent shadows you can see on the ground through trees or a colander. For older kids, make sure they understand they can only look at the sun if they have their glasses on their face. The challenge for younger children is that you can't see anything through the eclipse glasses except the sun, and that may be hard for them to understand. 

It looks like the D.C. area will have about 80 percent of the full eclipse. Will the average person notice anything without looking at the sun? Will it get noticeably darker?

Yes! You will definitely notice changes even if you are not in the path of totality. First, notice the shadows: often we get pin hole projections of the sun through everyday things like leaves on a tree or window binds. During the eclipse they will appear a crescents rather than round disks like we are use to. Second, it will get cooler out. It won't be as dramatic of a temperature change as in totality, but it will feel noticeably cooler than typical. Third, if you are really paying attention, it will be a bit darker, but not much more than a cloud passing over the sun.  

Why does the eclipse move west to east, when the sun and the moon are traveling from east to west in the sky?

Great question! This is a toughie -- we actually did an entire post about it earlier this year. 
Basically, we see the moon rise in the east and set in the west because the Earth is rotating eastward. Same goes for the sun. But the moon is actually orbiting in the same direction; if Earth stood still, the moon would appear over the western horizon and then set in the east. We get a glimpse of what that would be like during an eclipse, because we see the shadow that the moon is casting on Earth as it moves past the sun in its orbit.  

For a more in depth explanation, check out this post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/06/12/dear-science-is-the-eclipse-moving-backward/?utm_term=.cba3b1f09ff1

Why is the time of totality shorter than some previous total eclipses? Terry Wood

Geometry! Very complicated geometry. It all has to do with the relative positions between the Earth, Sun, and Moon. The orbit of the Moon around the Earth isn't exactly circular and isn't exactly in the same plane as the Earth-Sun. Due to these wobbles, the positions of the Moon can be relatively closer or further from the Earth's surface. This distance is what determines the duration of totality. Check out this animation from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio for a visual demonstration!

Do I have to cover my windows?

Eclipses are perfectly safe for people to experience inside or out of their house. Just don't look directly into the sun without eclipse glasses. There are several Native American tribes especially in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico that believe that eclipses bring bad luck and will stay indoors because of that. 

Where are you guys going to see the eclipse?

I am going to Madras, Oregon. NASA is running a large public outreach event there. It also happens to be one of the best places to get cloudless skies. 

I'll be in Bryson City, N.C., for the eclipse. I've been in touch with some residents there and they are VERY excited for this event!

When you say "the Southeast is will probably miss out on the event due to clouds" do you mean we won't see anything at all? Will it just go from overcast gray to dark, then back to gray?

It will definitely get dark out if you are in totality and dim out if you are outside of totality, you just won't be able to see the solar corona. The view of the corona is what people pay the big money to see. 

Thank you for doing this live chat. I'm going to be traveling to Smokey Mountains National Park with family and I am crossing my fingers we'll be able to at least have partly cloudy skies to see the eclipse -- my only other experience was an annular eclipse in '94 and we had rain up in New Jersey.

 

In your opinion, is it even practical to try to look at the forecasts in the days leading up to try to figure out the best place in the park to view it? What's the best weather product for predicting cloud cover that we should be looking at?

 

Thanks! - Joe

Hi Joe -- As a meteorologist I think it is useful to start to look at the forecasts as early as you can! You just have to take them with a giant grain of salt when it's more than 4-5 days away. Our forecast confidence is really low until that point.

We actually published a way-too-early forecast this morning. There are some forecast models that go out more than three weeks, so we're starting to look at those for very general ideas of where the high pressure (clear sky) and low pressure (clouds) will be. 

How bad will traffic be along and near the eclipse path? I had imagined people pulling over on interstates during the totality, and parking lots at every shopping center full to bursting.

Traffic is a little unpredictable near the path of totality. Just plan ahead for the worst by having plenty of food, water, and gas, and hope for the best. 

Yeah this is a tough question to answer. We've seen estimates of 1.8 to 5 million people traveling to see the eclipse. Obviously that's a big difference. Best advice is to head out earlier rather than later!

Is it true you go blind if you look directly at a solar eclipse?

The only time it is safe to look at the eclipse without eclipse glasses is when the sun is completely covered by the moon. That being said, the chances of going completely blind are relatively small but you can do real damage if you aren't careful. Your retina can be damaged by the sun emerging into or out of totality and can cause temporary or permanent damage. Your eyes are pretty smart, if you have to squint or if the light seems too bright, it is best to look away. 

At the moment totality begins (and again, at its end), is there an abrupt change in darkness and in light? If not, how gradual is it?

The darkness descending and the sunlight returning will be similar to a sunset and sun rise in the path of totality, but a bit faster. So it will be steady, but not like someone is turning off a switch. 

If the sun flares on the side facing the Earth during totality, is there any way to tell it happened before the charged particles reach us?

Absolutely. NASA and NOAA have a fleet of spacecraft that are looking at the sun every minute of every day to monitor for solar flares and other eruptions. Many of these satellites will not see the moon cover any amount of the Sun and will be beaming their information back to the ground as normal. I am actually hoping for a mild eruption during totality, because it would be amazing to see with my own eyes. 

If you are located in the path of totality, will the stars be visible? Southern Cross?

Yep! As the sun gets covered by the moon, the sky will darken enough for some stars and planets to pop out. Depending on where you are, you may be able to see Venus and Jupiter. The stars you'll see are the ones you would normally see in February. Sirius may be visible, as well as Regulus and Arcturus. You wouldn't be able to see the Southern Cross because the constellation isn't visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Space.com reports that you can see celestial objects (stars and planets) that are brighter than magnitude-2. Here's some helpful info on apparent magnitude.

what about automated street lights? won't they come on during totality

In the path of totality, streetlights are very likely to come on automatically. Several cities in the eclipse path are working to prevent this from happening to not interfere with the experience of viewers. 

Thank you for answering questions today! Like many others, I have a question about glasses. I should have bought mine earlier, but I didn't, and now I'm hearing stories that there are a lot of fake products out there. How can I tell which are real? I've heard that the counterfeit ones are even falsely using the official ISO code.

Wow -- that's terrible! I hope it's not true but of course you're right to be concerned.

Lots of different non-profit organizations are giving away free glasses ahead of the event, including thousands of public libraries across the country, some museums and NASA. Maybe it's best to pick up those pairs. Since they're giving them away for free, there's little incentive to lie about the protection quality.

I know for a fact that the glasses the libraries are giving away are safe. Check out the link at the bottom of this live chat for more info.

How fast will the shadow be moving across the face of the Earth in land speed?

The moon orbits the Earth at a brisk pace of more than 2,200 miles per hour. Because of the Earth's geometry, the speed of the shadow cast by the moon varies depending on the stage of the eclipse and the location of the shadow on the Earth's surface. The shadow move even faster (up to 5,000 mph at the poles) or slow to a plodding 1,100 mph near the equator. This eclipse will cross the continental U.S. in 90 minutes. 

Would you rather fight 100 lunar eclipse-sized solar eclipses, or 1 solar eclipse-sized lunar eclipse?

Definitely one solar eclipse-sized lunar eclipse. I'm much better with bosses at the end of the level than all the minions that swarm you right out of spawn.

Do you foresee any significant threats or impacts caused by the eclipse across the United States?

There could be local disruptions in traffic. Small towns in the path of totality are going to see thousands of people swarm into their city, so that's going to be an issue if they haven't planned ahead. As far as I know, though, all of these cities are aware of the eclipse and are doing their best to prep for the crowds. 

I wrote this post last week that lists some of the things you may expect if you wing it.

Otherwise, there's no threat to Earth from the eclipse itself.

What are your favorite fun facts about eclipses, the sun, or moon to pepper conversation as we wait for the moon to blot out the sun?

Earth hasn't always had total solar eclipses, and in about 500 million years, we will experience our last one. Eclipses only happen because of a great cosmic coincidence: the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, and 400 times as distant, so the two bodies appear to be the same size in the sky. But the moon is slowly drifting away from Earth at a pace of 3.8 cm/year, and eventually, it will be too far from us to totally cover the sun. 

What can I see in the corona at totality? Am I running a risk if I use binoculars?

You'll be able to see the corona itself. It will look like feathery tendrils around the edge of the sun. The corona is made of solar plasma. You may be able to see loops and other large-scale features, depending on what the sun is doing at the time of the eclipse.

If you're going to use binoculars, you MUST make sure to either place solar filters in front of the lenses, or purchase special solar binoculars. Without these filters, you will damage your eyes.

How will the eclipse affect animals?

Most animals don't really notice much more than a really dark cloud passing over.  Some animals will go through bedding down routines as if the day was over. Be sure to watch animals around you to see what they do. 

The relative distances and diameters of our planet, our moon and our star are such that during a total eclipse the moon is a visual "tight fit" to the sun, allowing us to see only the corona. With a different set of distances or diameters, we would never see a total eclipse. So is this spectacular show just immense good luck for us Earthlings? Or have I missed something fundamental going on?

Nope, it's just good luck! As the moon drifts away from Earth (it's gaining about 3.8 cm a year), the alignment of sun, moon and Earth required for an eclipse will become more and more difficult. In about 500 million years, it won't be possible at all. So, Earthlings should enjoy the eclipses while we can!

During the period of totality, how should I most effectively spend my time? Should I just stare at the eclipsed sun the whole time, and soak in the experience? Or should I try to take some pictures? I figure there will be tons of pictures available on the Internet, so why waste my time.

I agree with your sentiment. I'm planning on taking it in without trying to get the photos. I'm going to be social with the people hanging out in my area and watch the partial eclipse with my glasses. 

At totality, take off your glasses and enjoy. I haven't seen one in person yet, but I hear it's the event of a lifetime. I want to enjoy it without technology!

If I use eclipse glasses, can I look at the sun with binoculars?

No. When I was 8 I would burn leaves with sunlight and a magnifying glass. If you use binoculars, there is a decent chance that you could inadvertently do the same to your eclipse glasses or eyes. If you want to use binoculars or a telescope to look at the sun, you need specialty solar filters. 

IMPORTANT: If you're using binoculars or telescopes, the solar filter needs to be placed in front of the lenses, not behind them. In other words, the filter needs to filter out the light before it's magnified, not after.

I am stuck in DC covering for people going to see the eclipse. Is there a good location to see most of the eclipse

Just a clear view of the sun and a pair of solar eclipse glasses! Be sure to go over to the NASA homepage for links to live video streams of the eclipse across the country.  

What excites you about experiencing a solar eclipse?

I study the sun for a living but never get to see the part of the sun that I study with my own eyes. This eclipse is a rare opportunity to see the solar corona, live, in person. It will be like seeing an old friend in person after years of only seeing photographs. 

If you have the proper filter on a SLR camera - is that sufficient to protect your eyes to view the eclipse through the camera lens? And what filter would that be?

Yes, that should be fine. You want to make sure the filter is placed in front of the lens, not behind it. 

Of course, make sure you have glasses, too, so you can watch it without having to look through your viewfinder. :)

Is Michael in any way related to James T. Kirk?

I think James was born in the year 2233, so I guess there is still a chance that I could be!

Can you explain what the infamous "Shadow Snakes" are?

Shadow bands are alternating streams of dark and light that can appear in the moments before and after a total solar eclipse. They look kind of like the ripples of sunlight at the bottom of a pool. According to NASA, scientists actually aren't really sure what causes them, but it's believed they're a result of atmospheric eddies that unfocus and refocus the light from the crescent sun just before totality. Click here to read more: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/exploring-shadow-bands

It is said that more babies are produced during eclipses than any other time. Is this because people feel friskier, or does the eclipse have beneficial effects on fertility?

It's possible that events like this encourage people to... love each other more. There's something about beautiful natural phenomenons that makes you feel closer to your fellow man (or woman). 

That being said, we haven't seen a lot of data that confirms birth rates spike 9 months after big events like blizzards or hurricanes, when people are "shut in" with nothing else to do.

Anecdotally, we just heard there was a spike in births 9 months after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. I have a feeling that has more to do with post-game celebrations at the bar than anything else. :)

When will North America see another solar eclipse?

The next total solar eclipse in North America will be April 8, 2024 and will sweep from Mexico up through Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, over lake Erie and Ontario, and out through northern Maine and New Brunswick. 

What if you're in a plane? We are flying from Denver to Atlanta and then to D.C. Looks like we could be in the air in the vicinity for some of it. Any suggestions?

Bring your eclipse glasses and get a window seat! 

What does NASA hope to learn from this eclipse? It will be the most photographed in history.

This is an amazing opportunity for NASA. We are looking at two major areas for research: the sun and the earth's atmosphere. We are going to test out new camera technologies from the ground, take high resolution images to see the smallest changes in the solar corona, and look for waves in the earths atmosphere caused by the eclipse. Check out this NASA science page for more details!

Do you have a book or other resource to recommend on how humans have understood eclipses throughout history? I live about two hours outside of totality and am looking forward to the trip to experience totality with my family!

I don't have a specific book to recommend, but the history of astronomy is fascinating! Human beings have been looking at the sky since they began to stand upright. There are many books and resources on that, so you probably want to start there. 

As I understand it, the reason we see a total eclipse is because the visible disc sizes of the sun and the moon are the same, so that the moon can completely cover the sun as seen from Earth. How common is this in the solar system? Would a total eclipse happen anywhere else in the solar system?

We are in a completely unique place. Solar eclipses on other planets would be incredibly boring because they would either never be a total eclipse or the moon on the other planet would block out so much of the sun, you wouldn't be able to see any of the amazing solar corona like will be able to on Earth. The distance of our Moon happens to be exactly perfect to block out the bright disk of the Sun and expose the beautiful corona. 

We're VERY excited about this eclipse, my husband and his friends have been planning to see it for over a decade. I don't expect we'll get good photos and I don't want to mess with my camera too much during it. I presume there will be a major post eclipse marketing push for photos and posters. Any idea of what we'll be able to get after the fact? Will NASA be publishing photos?

If I know NASA, they will definitely be publishing some amazing imagery after the fact. Also, big news organizations like the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP will have their photographers in the field. 

How would something like an eclipse mess with a hypotetical man on the dark side of the moon?

Is this a joke about Pink Floyd or an actual question? I can't tell.

Why is it that solar eclipses don't occur more often? (Although it seems to me that every few years we're told that this one will be the last until 2457 or some such.)

Eclipses require that the orbits of the moon and Earth bring us into perfect alignment to the sun. Since the plane of the moon's orbit is slightly tilted to the plan in which the Earth orbits the sun, there are many months when that alignment doesn't happen. In addition, the moon's orbit is not perfectly circular, so sometimes it is slightly further away from Earth when it comes between us and the sun. In those cases, we experience an "annular eclipse," when a thin ring of the sun's light is visible around the orb of the moon. 

No question. Just wanted to say that I love NASA. You are a jewel in America's legacy. I've loved NASA since I was a little kid. You guys are the best. Thanks for traveling the universe for us!! And thanks for all the wonderful pictures from space.

Thanks! It is an absolute honor to be able to work here and has been a dream of mine since I was 6 or 7 years old. 

Thanks for this. I'm taking my son to Nashville for the eclipse and I'm glad to see the way-too-early forecast (for now) says good chance for good weather.

I hope it stays that way for you!

Will people that are not directly on the path of totality be able to see any sort of eclipse?

Yes -- you will be able to see a partial eclipse. But if you have the opportunity to get into the path of totality, y0u should. The difference between a total eclipse and a partial eclipse is quite literally night and day.

Is there a significant difference between being directly in the middle of the totality zone versus being near the edge? For instance, time etc.

The closer you are to the center of the path of totality, the longer the time you'll be in the moon's shadow. We recommend getting as close to the middle of the path as possible for the longest possible eclipse. 

Can the eclipse convince Trump to stop tweeting?

I personally hope President Trump will have the time to see the total eclipse himself. It's an amazing experience. Tremendous. I wouldn't want anyone to miss it!

I have a question of logistics...I'm staying in Southeast Portland with my parents. The northern edge of totality will be 30 miles south. Everyone in Portland will be trying to travel south to see the eclipse, which happens at about 10AM.

Any suggestions about how to avoid the traffic jam but still experience the eclipse???

If I were you, I would drive down on Sunday with a tent and a sleeping bag so you can be there before the crowds hit the road.

If you are choosing to not travel for the eclipse, but still want to experience it, is it important to figure out where to be that day? That is, if we are staying in DC, should we still plan on traveling away from downtown to get the best experience?

If you're not going to try to get into the path of totality, it won't be worth it to try and travel anywhere else to see it. Totality is a very special thing that only happens in that path. For the rest of the U.S., the partial-eclipse view is going to be pretty much the same.

Will the solar eclipse have any affect on scheduled flights around the time of totality?

Nope! The eclipse doesn't affect anything but the temperature and the human beings who want to watch it. :)

If it's overcast but you're in the path of totality, will you still see the dramatic change?

It depends how overcast it is. If there's 100 percent cloudiness, you're not going to see much, but things will get dark. If it's a thin layer of clouds -- so that you can still see the "disc" of the sun -- then you'll be able to see a lot of the event. You may miss out on seeing the corona, though.

Why does the eclipse start in Oregon?

I wish I could say it is because Oregon is awesome (I grew up there) but it is really because of the orbit of the moon. The shadow of the moon sweeps from West to East. In other eclipses it can sweep from southwest to northeast, or from northwest to southeast, but always from west to east. 

Does the total eclipse look different during solar maximum and solar minimum and, if so, how would that effect the appearance of this one?

Yes eclipses do look different depending on what part of the solar cycle we are in. During a total eclipse we can see the solar corona. The corona has a symmetrical and smooth shape during minimum. During maximum, the corona is much more chaotic with many kinks and swirls. We are currently in the declining phase of the solar cycle, meaning we are part way between solar maximum and minimum - so the corona will be somewhere in between.  

Will you be able to see it in Germany?

Not this one. You will have to wait until 2026 to see a total eclipse in Europe. 

During the roughly 2~3 minutes of totality, is it safe to remove your eclipse glasses and look at the sun/moon/corona without eye protection? If so, how do you know exactly when it's safe to remove eyewear and when it should be put back on?

Yes you can look at the sun with your unprotected eyes only for the 2-ish minutes of totality. The best way to know when to remove your glasses is to look for the small points of light on the edge of the sun, called Baileys' beads, to blink out. Then it is safe to look at the sun without your glasses. Also, set a timer for the duration of totality where you are minus 10 seconds or so. For example if totality lasts 1 minute 43 seconds where you are, set a timer for 1 minute 33 seconds. When the timer goes off, you know to put your glasses back on. Look at the interactive map on NASA eclipse website to find the exact duration of totality for where you will be. 

Either bad luck or a happy accident in my travel plans: I will be on a plane over South Carolina and/or Georgia when the eclipse happens. Is there any chance to see it? Are my chances better or worse at the normal altitude for a commercial flight?

You'll have to get very very lucky to catch the eclipse from the air -- remember that each spot on the path of totality will only experience an eclipse for a few minutes. Not even a 747 can outstrip the moon. BUT! NASA published this helpful guide to the crazy math involved in figuring out whether your flight will intersect the moon's shadow, and it includes a list of the flights that should work. If your flight is on this list, and it miraculously leaves on time, then make sure to grab a window seat, a pair of eclipse glasses, and enjoy the show! 

I saw the total solar eclipse in the 1950s in Manila. Two most memorable things: (1) seeing the stars in the middle of the day, (2) hearing the roosters crow towards the end of the eclipse.

Thanks for sharing this! This will be my first eclipse, and I'm really looking forward to it. 

I'll be on my family beach vacation during the eclipse. Can you suggest websites to talk to the kids about it before we see it (I already picked up some glasses for the gang). Ages 6 through 13. Any 'experiments' we can do before or during?

Check out how to make a camera obscura. That's a fun experiment I enjoyed when I was a kid.

Other than that, read through Sarah Kaplan's "everything you need to know" post and explain what's happening and why. This is a great opportunity to get your kids interested in science, space and astronomy. And I believe parents are the best teachers!

Have total eclipses been known to cause car accidents due to the sudden shift from night-time to day-time conditions?

Not that I know of. The shift in light isn't sudden enough. If there's a spike in car accidents, it's because people are trying to see what's going on while driving, instead of paying attention to the road.

Why do so many cultures associate eclipses with gods and supernatural forces?

Wouldn't you? Just imagine watching the sun unexpectedly vanish in the middle of the day, not knowing whether it would return. I can definitely understand why that would be cause for alarm, if you didn't know the astronomy behind it. 

Will the cooling effect of the eclipse generate a breeze that flows across the U.S. from West to East in those 90 minutes of totality? If so, would its effects be noticeable?

Any change in temperature and thereby pressure will cause a change in air flow, but it won't be noticeable to us. Would be interesting to see if any research meteorologists try to tease out the effect in the data, after the event.

Can you wear regular glasses to look at the solar eclipse? What about regular sun glasses?

Nope -- you have to use the special glasses if you want to be able to see anything. If you put your regular sunglasses on this afternoon and try to look at the sun, that's about what it will be like during the eclipse, too.

The glasses make it so you can actually see the moon moving in front of the sun.

We are planning to climb a high mountain to get a better view of the the beginning and end of the totality. We hope to see the snake effect, but also the shadow zooming towards and away form us. Is that realistic?

Even if you're on a mountain top, the shadow is going to be zooming toward you at around 2,000 mph, so you may not be able to see it move across the Earth. You'd have to be on a very very tall mountain. 

Also, you can see the snake shadows anywhere -- no mountaintop necessary.

Correction: The original version of this answer said the shadow will move across the Earth at 20,000 mph. We removed one of those zeros.

I'm having a heck of a time finding NASA-approved kid-sized eclipse glasses for a 3- and 5-year-olds. The adult glasses seem like the lenses are too far apart for a kid's eyes. I want to be able to put a pair of glasses on my kid and not have to be constantly worrying about him peeking out the edge or the glasses slipping off his face. Any suggestions? Thanks!

It is best if smaller kids just don't look at the sun with glasses - for that exact reason. Get a colander, or some other pin hole projection and let them see the crescent shadows on the ground. By the time the next total solar eclipse comes through the US in 2024, they will be old enough to enjoy it. 

How far above the horizon?

The position of the sun depends on where you are viewing the eclipse. In Oregon, totality starts around 10:19 am which means the sun not at its zenith yet. In Nebraska, the sun will be quite high in the sky since totality is just after noon there. 

I have to be on a plane on eclipse day, flying from New England to Southwest through Chicago. Can the eclipse affect aviation instruments and/or safety? I'm sort of freaking out because I'm not a scientist.

No need to worry. There is no danger to aviation navigation or radio equipment due to the solar eclipse. I got my private pilot's license and continue to stay current on how the sun can affect aviation. 

Could you really get retina damage if you look at the sun during the eclipse for brief moments?

It depends on how brief you mean by brief and if you eyes are dark adjusted or not - that is the problem. So just be safe and don't do it. That being said, your eyes can tell if they are being stressed and will make you squint or will actually hurt. If they hurt, definitely do not continue what you are doing or you can risk serious damage. 

I am nowhere near total eclipse path, but understand it will be televised. Will I get a better "wow" factor from the TV or watching a partial eclipse?

Do both! Go out and observe the partial eclipse for a minute or two before (or after) totality, and then come back in and see totality streamed live online. 

Why do the eclipse glasses warn against >3 minutes of continuous use?

Wear and tear mostly. The eclipse glasses are not meant to be durable so there is a chance that they could fatigue and allow light to leak in. If they are ISO certified, they will block enough of the sunlight to be safe for your eyes. 

It looks like the next time D.C. will be in the path of totality is in 2444. Is that right? Is it unusual for one spot to go so long being within totality?

Actually, it's not unusual at all. Our colleague Denise Lu, who made an amazing interactive graphic that lets you see every eclipse in your lifetime, reported that there's one area near Tucson that hasn't seen a total solar eclipse since the year 797. But D.C. has had a pretty long drought -- we haven't experienced a total solar eclipse since the 1400s, and we won't see our next one until 2444.

Will planes flying at the time of the eclipse take any precautionary measures?

Nope -- there's no effect on flights, or any other technology, really. 

We're traveling to Nashville to see the eclipse. In the unfortunate scenario that it turns out to be a cloudy day, what's the best weather resource to use to find clear skies that we may be able to drive to early in the morning day-of?

Any weather website that offers satellite imagery. Weather.com, wunderground.com and weather.gov are all good resources for this.

Michael, pick up your beer in Portland - there is speculation that there will be a run on beer in the Madras area!

Good tip for everyone going to the line of totality. 

How long will it be from the time the sun and moon start to cross paths until they're completely separated again? I've seen a lot of coverage of how long it will be for those in the path of totality (we will be in Bryson City, NC!) but wondering about the total time of the "event"?

From the beginning of the partial eclipse to the end of the partial eclipse, it will be hours! Three hours in Bryson City, actually.

Does NASA have any research projects lined up for the eclipse?

Yes, several! We are flying high altitude balloons to take video, aircraft to take high resolution images, and several ground-based teams to test out cutting edge technologies. Check out the NASA eclipse science page for more information. 

I am wondering if there is any way to estimate how many people we might expect here in Carbondale, Ill...this is supposed to be just north of the location of the longest totality duration.

I've been hearing estimates of about 50,000 visitors for the big event, though that may change based on weather forecasts as we get closer to Aug. 21. I do know for certain that at least one visitor will be there: me! Will I see you in Carbondale as well?

To get away from streetlights and urban lights, I think Hains Point will be the best location in D.C. to watch, maybe also National Arboretum or at the top of a hill at Rock Creek Park near Military Road. Do you agree?

This sounds right. Although I think we mentioned in another comment that street lights probably won't turn on during the event. Rooftops will probably be a great place to see it, too. No need to do too much travel, especially if you have to work that day.

Should I be worried about accidentally looking at the sun while driving in an area which will have a partial eclipse, say D.C. or the East Coast in general? I know I sometimes make a turn or go around a bend and suddenly the sun is right in my eyes.

There's no more risk than any other day. The sun's radiation doesn't change during the eclipse -- it actually lessens. The reason people need to wear glasses is because if they don't, they won't be able to see the moon moving in front of the sun. If you try to stare at the sun without glasses, you'll damage your eyes (just like any other day).

Is it safe to look at the sun with the naked eye during the moments when the solar eclipse is in totality?

Yes! And you should. It's going to be amazing.

Will I be able to use an iPad to photograph the event without damaging the iPad?

I've gotten my day off approved and have looked at the Oregon maps. If I go out to the shore, will I literally see a dark area approaching from the ocean as the eclipse arrives?

Yes, but it will be approaching VERY fast, so you might miss it!

How powerful does a computer need to be to accurately map an eclipse 100 years from now? Is it fairly straightforward or does it require heavy computational power?

It's actually not *that* difficult to calculate the paths of future eclipses. It just involves math, and some knowledge of the orbits of the moon and Earth. Humans have been predicting eclipses for almost 2,000 years, long before  and NASA has published a compendium of eclipses that goes 3,000 years into the future. 

Thank you all for participating in our Live Q&A! It was great to see so many interesting and important questions.

We're planning on doing another Q&A before the eclipse, so if we didn't get to your question, you'll have another chance to ask.

Until then, happy sky-watching.

Can ISS  intersect the path of totality in future eclipses and can we learn anything new from that intersection? Will they get a larger totality duration for say more than 30 minutes.

The path of the orbit of the ISS around the earth is distinctly different than the path of the moon's shadow across the Earth's surface. During this eclipse, they won't see any more than 85% of the sun covered. If they did intersect, it would be extremely fleeting since they are never exactly line up. The ISS will be taking images of the earth and the part of the eclipse they can see.   

In This Chat
Angela Fritz
Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist who is currently serving as the Washington Post’s deputy weather editor.
Sarah Kaplan
Sarah Kaplan is a reporter for the Washington Post's Speaking of Science.
Michael Kirk
Michael Kirk is a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
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