By Jessica Born / August 11, 2017

Solar Eclipse 101

Monday gets a bad rap. It is not typically a day that gets associated with awesomeness all that often. BUT, its day in the Sun is coming (ba-dum-bum). All eyes will be to the sky on Monday, August 21, for the first coast-to-coast, total solar eclipse in 99 years. Yes, nearly a century has passed since this phenomenon has been visible in the United States! (And, this is the first total solar eclipse to touch any part of the US since 1979.)

This is a big deal. And, it's a big learning opportunity. (Hello, experiencing STEM in the real world.)

So, let’s break down the buzz about the pending solar eclipse.


The Basics

  • A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves in front of the Sun.
  • When the Moon, Earth, and the Sun line up perfectly in a direct line, the moon casts two shadows on Earth: the umbra, which gets smaller as it reaches Earth, and, the penumbra, which gets larger as it reaches Earth. Your location determines whether you see a total or partial eclipse. The penumbra results in a partial eclipse, while the umbra results in a total eclipse.
  • The Sun’s corona will be visible during the total eclipse. The corona is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere and is usually not visible due to the brightness of the Sun. During a total eclipse, the corona will glow, completely surrounding the eclipsed Sun.

Fun Facts

  • The Sun is about 400 times larger than the Moon. The Moon, accordingly, is about 400 times closer to the Earth than is the Sun.
  • Eclipses happen only during the new moon.
  • Total eclipses happen only on Earth because the Moon’s diameter and distance from Earth make its relative size just big enough to cover the Sun.
  • The Moon's shadow is traveling across Earth’s surface at more than 1,000 miles per hour.
  • Total eclipses occur somewhere every 18 months to two years, but seeing them in a single spot with a large swath of visibility is very rare – less than once-in-a-lifetime rare. (Partial eclipses happen each year, sometimes with as many as five in a year).
  • The next total solar eclipse in the US will occur in 2024, with a with smaller visibility along a different path.
  • Observing the Moon during an eclipse led to the discovery that the Earth was round.

What to Expect on Monday

  • Day will literally turn to night for a few momentous minutes.
  • Temperatures will drop an average of 10-15 degrees briefly.
  • Shadows will be much sharper, almost as if the shadow is racing toward the land.
  • Monday’s total solar eclipse will only last up to two minutes and 40 seconds, depending on where you are.
  • The total eclipse will be seen along a narrow path, approximately 70 miles wide, from Oregon to South Carolina, but every state will be able to see the Sun at least partially eclipsed.
  • Scientists from all disciplines will observe atmospheric conditions and thermophysical properties, radiation levels at the edge of space, the structure of the solar corona, and the effect of solar wind, as well as conduct many other exciting experiments.



  • YOU MUST WEAR PROPER EYE PROTECTION. Your everyday shades will not cut it.
    This event won’t last long and neither should its impact. Wear the recommended glasses to prevent (sometimes painful and permanent) eye injury.


Maps and Viewing Locations Classroom Ideas, Activities, and Educator Guides

Who’s ready to experience history? We’re already counting down! Tell us your plans and drop where you’ll be watching from in the comments.

Article Sources 

TOPICS: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM, Teacher Resources, Science, Trends

Jessica Born

Written by Jessica Born

Well, hey there! I’m the digital marketing manager for Pitsco Education. Marketing and special events have been my jam for about the last decade. I’m an alumna of Kansas State University and the University of Arkansas. I fill my Pitsco days with social media management and supporting video and web projects. My weekends are for time in the kitchen, real estate and home projects, and adventuring with my husband and our Dood, Garth. The best part of my role here is getting to bring creativity and organization to our efforts to connect with YOU!