Scientists and armchair astronomers nationwide will get the chance to see a total solar eclipse this year, marking the first time the phenomenon has occurred from coast-to-coast in nearly 100 years.
In August, the moon will block all of the sun but its vast, outer atmosphere, known as the corona. According to NASA, people can expect to see the corona present itself in "pearly white rays and streamers radiating around the lunar disk."
The total solar eclipse will start on Aug. 21 near Lincoln City, Oregon, around 10:15 a.m. PDT. Over the next hour and a half, it will travel across the country, ending around 2:50 p.m. EDT near Charleston, South Carolina, NASA said in a news release. A partial eclipse will be visible before and after those times.
Scientists from NASA, the University of Texas Arlington and the University of Hawaii presented an overview of the event last year at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.
"An eclipse teaches us so many things, but the 2017 eclipse is especially unique because of the uninterrupted land masses it will pass over," said Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will allow us to maximize our chance to collect data and connect the shadow of the moon to Earth science."
Among the researchers eagerly awaiting August is University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal, who uses specialized cameras to photograph and study the corona. The outer atmosphere is where scientists see significant eruptions, including solar flares, and the beginnings of solar wind.
Researchers believe understanding the corona and its role in the solar system can shed light on its relationship with not only planets and stars like the sun, but also the environment satellites and astronauts will inevitably pass through as space exploration expands.
"There is a whole spectrum of colors of light that our eyes cannot see," Habbal said. "From these different colors, we can directly probe into the physics of the corona."
The eclipse will be visible to viewers across the nation, however, NASA warned, it will only be safe to look directly at the sun during the brief period when the moon entirely blocks the star.
"The only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed sun is through a specialized filter," like those in eclipse glasses, according to NASA.
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