Excitement is running high for the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse that will occur over North America on August 21, 2017. Millions of people will don special, protective eyewear and stare up at the sky as the moon crosses in front of the sun and blocks the light for a few minutes that day. Others will be able to watch the progression of the eclipse online through NASA’s website as it streams the event.  55 teams in 30 states will launch high-altitude weather balloons 100,000 feet into the sky in the direct path of the eclipse. These balloons will provide live video broadcasts and some will collect scientific data.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse NASA map of projected path.

History of Eclipses

People have been interested in eclipses for centuries. Historians believe that ancient humans may have depicted their experiences of observing eclipses in primitive art and petroglyphs that have been found.

Eclipses are rare : it’s not every day that the light from the sun disappears completely during the middle of the day. The last solar eclipse to occur over the contiguous United States was in 1979. The next total eclipse to occur over the United States  predicts we will have to wait until April 8, 2024 for another chance to witness the moon completely eclipsing the sun.

Intriguing Science Discoveries

An eclipse is interesting for the casual observer – and even more intriguing for scientists. They give us a unique opportunity to observe things that we normally wouldn’t be able to see when the sun is shining in full force. In 1919, Sir Arthur Eddington was able to verify Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by observing the bending of light that occurred during an eclipse. This scientific breakthrough proved that space is not fixed, as Newton believed, but is actually curved and is bent near massive bodies of mass.

An eclipse gives researchers the opportunity to observe the upper atmosphere of the sun, called the corona. The corona appears in the form of the halo around the sun during an eclipse.

A team prepares to launch a practice NASA weather balloon on July 8, 2017, in Lead, South Dakota.

A team prepares to launch a practice NASA weather balloon on July 8, 2017, in Lead, South Dakota. -Photo by Christel Peters

Students will also have an opportunity to collaborate with NASA as part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project. NASA provides weather balloons to teams comprised of students, teachers, and mentor volunteers across the United States. These teams will design the equipment and containers, otherwise known as the payload, that the weather balloons will carry 100,000 feet up into the Earth’s stratosphere. These specialized balloons will be responsible for streaming the live video captured during the eclipse as they ascend. Some teams will also be collecting scientific data that students can later study once they retrieve the payload after it descends back to the surface. These strategic balloon launches require coordination and months of planning for the teams to be successful on August 21.

Phases of a Solar Eclipse

graphic of total eclipse phases

Graphic Credit: NASA.gov

Bailey’s Beads – the beginning of an eclipse will produce several bright points of light around the moon. These light rays are called Bailey’s Beads and occur as the move crosses in front of the sun.

One Bright Spot – soon, there will only be one of Bailey’s Beads visible. A bright spot that looks like a diamond ring will be the indication that totality is soon to follow.

Totality – once the last of Bailey’s Beads disappears you can safely observe the the eclipse without eyewear. Vigilance is important in this phase. An eclipse may only last 1 to 2 minutes in some locations. Keep those glasses handy and ready to put back on!

Crescent of Light – eventually, a crescent of light will appear from behind the moon. This is when you must don your protective eyewear again.

Phases in Reverse – the remainder of the eclipse will happen in reverse. A bright spot will appear, followed by Bailey’s Beads and ending with the sun becoming completely visible once again.

Viewing a Solar Eclipse Safely

The only safe time to directly view an eclipse without protective eyewear is during the totality phase. NEVER attempt to view an eclipse with the naked eye or improper equipment. Not protecting eyes during an eclipse can result in permanent eye damage and even blindness.

NASA eclipse safety viewing explanation

NASA has provided very specific information for buying proper protective eyewear. They advise consumers to look for BOTH:

  1. U.S. Manufacturer Name (Recommend any of these: American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, or TSE 17)
  2. “ISO” Icon (Must have ISO reference 12312-2)

You can also observe an eclipse indirectly with a projection device or pinhole viewer during the event.

Viewing outdoors isn’t your only option for seeing the eclipse. Can’t make it outside to view the Eclipse on August 21? Tune in to the NASA live streaming site to watch the progress live online – no protective eyewear needed!

If viewing the eclipse directly outdoors, be sure to remember to protect the rest of your body as well! Sun protection for the skin and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration in hot climates are also important to remember.

Locations to View the Total Solar Eclipse

The direct path of the total solar eclipse will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Many locations in the direct path are expecting masses of people to congregate and view the eclipse. Specific places like libraries, zoos, and many others are hosting viewing events as well and are listed on the NASA eclipse event locations page.

NASA eclipse educational resource card

Another place to find a group to watch the Total Solar Eclipse with is right here on the Hike it Baby calendar! Incorporate a walk, hike, or simply meet up with other families to enjoy the rare phenomenon by joining a Hike it Baby event hosted near you. Don’t see an event in your area? Use the Hike it Baby calendar to submit and host your own event!

Young children and adults alike can safely experience the rare and exciting Total Solar Eclipse in a variety of ways. Prepare for the event now and share with us below how YOU will be watching the August 21 Total Solar Eclipse!



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