This summer, darkness will fall across the face of America.
Birds will stop singing.
Temperatures will drop.
Stars will become visible in the daytime sky.
In about 100 days, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the continental United States for the first time since 1918. Astronomers are calling it the Great American Eclipse.
For the amateur sky-watcher, a total eclipse presents a rare opportunity to witness a cosmic hiccup in our day-night cycle.
For solar astronomers, however, the eclipse offers something else: three minutes (give or take) to collect as much data as possible about the sun’s usually hidden outer atmosphere.
Researchers have been anticipating the event for years…
“It’s a really unique feeling, standing in the shadow of the moon,” said Matt Penn, an astronomer at the National Solar Observatory in Tucson who has witnessed two total eclipses. “Crickets start to chirp. Birds start to roost. Chickens do weird things. And it’s all in reaction to the strange light.”
A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about once every 18 months, and it can happen absolutely anywhere. That means most eclipse-chasers have to travel far from home to see one for themselves.
On Aug. 21, however, what’s known as the path of totality will cut a 60-mile-wide arc across the United States, beginning in Oregon at 10:15 a.m. local time and ending in South Carolina about an hour and a half later.