United States Total Solar Eclipse 2017

United States Total Solar Eclipse 2017

So this post isn’t really family related, but it is an experience you can have with your family! Many of you may have heard, but there is a total solar eclipse coming to the United States at the end of this summer. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity! While there are 2 solar eclipses a year, most of them happen over the ocean (because ocean area is bigger than land area!) and they don’t happen in the same spot over and over.

To prove it to you, I looked it up on this NASA page! The last total solar eclipse my little town experienced was May 16, 1379. The country didn’t even exist then, let alone the town!!! The next total solar eclipse here will be July 17, 2205. Yea… My kids and I probably won’t be alive then… 215 years old isn’t a thing as far as I know…

If you don’t live in my little town? The last total solar eclipse that you could see from somewhere in the contiguous 48 states was in 1970. So, if that doesn’t convince you to be interested, I don’t know what will! I am a science teacher, so I might be just a little over totally excited!

What is a Total Solar Eclipse?

So solar eclipse. What is it? A lot of people get solar and lunar eclipses confused, but the easy way to remember them is that in a solar eclipse, the sun (solar) is what is being hidden (eclipsed) and in a lunar eclipse, the moon (lunar) is what is being hidden (eclipsed).

Neither eclipse happens all the time because the moon’s orbit around the sun isn’t flat. It is at a slight tilt. However, lunar eclipses are seem more common because the moon is smaller, so it is easy to hide and it can been seen by half of the people around the world. (Whoever is experiencing night at the time). However, solar eclipses are harder to see because the moon is so small in comparison to the sun so it only creates a very small shadow.

geometry of a total solar eclipse

In a solar eclipse, the moon comes in between the Earth and the sun, blocking the sun and casting a shadow on the Earth. This shadow is very small so only a very small section of people on Earth can even see it. But, those who do, will have night in the middle of the day! (For about 2 to 3 minutes.) They will be able to see stars in the sky and the corona of the sun.

I really wish I could express my excitement better through writing, because this is going to be so. Totally. COOL!

When and Where:

So, when and where is this once in a life time cosmic sensation going to happen?? August 21st, 2017 and right through the middle of the United States! (Finally us fly over states get something cool!)

To get an idea if you are going to be in the path of the eclipse, checkout the map below, and then go to eclipse2017.org, read the directions, then click the yellow link at the bottom of the page to view the interactive google map. When you click on the Google map, it will tell you when the partial and total solar eclipse starts and ends for your area.


2017 Total Solar Eclipse Path in the United States
The path of totality of the August 21st, 2017 eclipse (by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC).

The total eclipse starts in western Oregon and ends in South Carolina. Here are some of the major cities it will run through and the approximate times of totality:

  • Salem, Oregon 10:17 AM
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho 11:33 AM
  • Casper, Wyoming 11:42 AM
  • Grand Island, Nebraska, 12:58 PM
  • St. Joseph, Missouri, 1:06 PM
  • Columbia, Missouri, 1:12 PM
  • Nashville, Tennessee, 1:27 PM
  • Anderson, South Carolina, 2:37 PM
  • Charleston, South Carolina, 2:46 PM

Know me personally and live where I do? Your partial eclipse will start at 11:00am and the total solar eclipse will be at about 1:00pm. It will last about 2 minutes and 14 seconds.

Are you not in the path of totality? If you are close, I suggest you get there!! If you are not in between the two red bands, you will only see a partial eclipse, and from what I hear, it is not nearly impressive. I’ve seen a partial eclipse and it wasn’t overly exciting, and actually they happen relatively often. (You just can’t tell without special glasses!)

If you really can’t make it, you do have one more shot on April 8th, 2024. Here is that map:

Path of the 2024 total solar eclipse
The next total solar eclipse in the Contiguous (“Lower”) 48 States after 2017 will be on April 8th, 2024 (by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC).

How to Prepare:

Eclipse Glasses:

So, to get the most out of this astronomical phenomenon, you need to do some preparation! The first step is to get yourself some solar eclipse glasses, and get them NOW! (before they sell out!)

solar eclipse glasses for viewing

Eclipse glasses are the easiest and safest way to look at the sun. You need them leading up to and after the total solar eclipse. They are used to look at the sun during the partial phase. If you are only in the partial eclipse area, you will need these to see anything at all. DO NOT look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. Sunglasses will NOT work! Please do not damage your eyesight!

These glasses are about $1 a piece if you order under 10. You can get them from Amazon in a pack of 10 here : Eclipse Glasses – CE Certified Safe Solar Eclipse Glasses or in packs of 25 or more from Eclipseglasses.com. They are cheaper the more you buy, so get with some friends to get yours!

Pinhole Camera

Don’t want to buy eclipse glasses? You can also create a pinhole camera in which you can view the shadow of the sun and moon. All that is needed is 2 large notecards, aluminum foil, tape, and a pin or paperclip. You can find the directions here!

make a pinhole camera to view eclipse shadows

Notice with this method, you are not looking up at the sky during the partial phase, instead you are looking down at the shadows on your paper. You do NOT look through the hole at the sun! It is only safe to turn around and look at the sun when the eclipse is in the totality phase. In fact, you wouldn’t see anything on your paper at that point!

If you are going to be viewing the solar eclipse with kids, practice using your glasses or pinhole camera before the eclipse so they know the proper safety measures they need to make. This will also allow them to see the sun as a complete circle before they see a chunk of it missing!

Total Solar Eclipse Activities:

Before the total solar eclipse, you can do some of these activities with your children so that they understand what is happening. At school, we are going to be planning a whole morning of station activities so that the students learn about solar eclipses and astronomy and have a little fun!

Sun-Earth-Moon Model:


This model would be a great starter activity to show the relationship between the sun, Earth and moon. All you need is the free printable here and some metal brads. There is some coloring involved and also a writing page for those of you with older kiddos! We will definitely be doing this activity on our station day at school!

Total Solar Eclipse Model:

Explain the total solar eclipse with two ballsYou need 2 balls for this model, and one of them needs to be larger than the other. Think basketball and baseball, or a volleyball and tennis ball. You get the point! The larger ball represents Earth and the smaller ball, the moon.

Go outside on a sunny day and have your child hold the Earth lower towards the ground. You then hold the moon higher in the air so that it casts a small shadow on the Earth. Don’t hold it so high that the shadow is over the whole Earth. Discuss how the people in that shadow can’t see the sun, but the people not in the shadow can see the sun. Move the moon so that the shadow moves across the Earth. Switch roles so your child can move the moon!

Make a Record:

Make a record of the total solar eclipse with your child. Create a pinhole camera using the instructions above and trace the shadow of the sun on the paper about every 10 minutes during the solar eclipse. Label each drawing with the time it was created. After the eclipse, your child will have their very own souvenir!

Integrating Music:

Here is a fun song about the sun that gives all sort of sun facts!

My students always love learning science songs and its a great way to remember content!

Here is another of their favorites about the moon and its phases. We are in the new moon phase to have a total solar eclipse!

Okay, I could go on and on with Sun, Earth, and Moon activities until my fingers shrivel up with all the typing, but I won’t bore you with all of them right now. If you want a few more ideas, just leave me a comment below with what kind of activity you want and I can see what I have laying around. Or, go onto Pinterest and look some up. There are 1,000s!


Make Your Plans!

So now is the time before you forget! Make your plan to see the total solar eclipse! Do you have to walk out your front door or travel a bit further? If your kids are in school, are they going to be doing anything special? Our school is!