eclipse

A federal judge in Florida ruled a trial couldn't be postponed just because one of the key witnesses — a federal agent — had travel plans to see the solar eclipse.


Eclipses are among the most predictable events on the planet. This one was known about for many decades before it crossed the U.S. earlier Monday.

Accordingly, people had been planning eclipse road trips for weeks in advance. They piled into planes and cars and made their way to the 70-mile-wide swath of land where the total eclipse would be visible. They checked online calculators, which told them the time of totality down to the second.

Katie Lepri / WLRN News

Clear skies and full visibility conspired on Monday afternoon to guarantee that science enthusiasts in South Florida had an unobstructed view of the solar eclipse traveling through the United States. 

Brace yourselves, North America — we're about to get mooned. Or, more accurately, eclipsed.

Joel Ryan / AP

The first day of school can be traumatic. Reluctant high schoolers schlep unopened summer reading books aboard early morning buses. Kindergartners sob at being separated from their parents -- and vice-versa.

Hundreds of years before solar viewing glasses were readily available, scientists and casual spectators could still enjoy these rare celestial events without frying their eyeballs. They'd use a combination of pinholes and mirrors to redirect the sun's rays onto a screen.

On Monday, the moon will completely eclipse the sun, and people all over the U.S. will watch.

For those who have been boning up on eclipse trivia for weeks, congratulations. For everyone else, here are the things you need to know about the phenomenon.

In July of 1878, Vassar professor Maria Mitchell led a team of astronomers to the new state of Colorado to observe a total solar eclipse. In a field outside of Denver, they watched as the sun went dark and a feathery fan of bright tendrils — the solar corona — faded into view.

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Edgar Su/Reuters

Throughout much of history, witnessing a total solar eclipse would mean one thing above all else. And that is fear.  

For the ancient Greeks, an eclipse was a sign that the gods were angry. The Vikings saw eclipses as a potential apocalypse. And the ancient Chinese apparently believed that an eclipse meant that a giant dragon was trying to devour the sun and that people needed to make as much noise as possible to scare the dragon away.

Anyone who gets to see the total solar eclipse on August 21 will be lucky — and humanity is lucky to live on a planet that even has this kind of celestial event.

Mercury and Venus, after all, don't even have moons. Mars has a couple, but they're too small to completely blot out the sun. Gas giants like Jupiter do have big moons, but they don't have solid surfaces where you could stand and enjoy an eclipse.

And, even with solid land and a moon, Earth only gets its gorgeous total solar eclipses because of a cosmic coincidence.

Courtesy of Glenn Schneider via NPR

On Aug. 21, the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, creating a solar eclipse.

About two weeks from now on August 21, a lot of people will be looking up. They will be witnessing the first "coast to coast" solar eclipse visible in the United States in about 100 years.

You can use this interactive map from NASA to find exactly when to look for the effects of the eclipse in your part of the world. And if you need help converting UTC or (UT) time, check here.

Howard Hochhalter manages the Bishop Planetarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. He says in Florida, we'll get about 83 to 85 percent of the eclipse.


To see this month's total solar eclipse, the first one to be visible from the contiguous United States in nearly 40 years, all Donald Liebenberg will have to do is open his front door and step outside.

"It's a really special treat to be able to have one in my driveway," says Liebenberg, who has trekked to Turkey, Zambia, China and Pukapuka, a remote island in the Pacific, to see past eclipses.