There’s a Total Solar Eclipse Coming in August

For the first time in 38 years, North America will see a total solar eclipse.
Photo via iStock.com/AarStudio

Photo via iStock.com/AarStudio

Get your telescopes ready: There’s a solar eclipse coming. On August 21 from around 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., a partial eclipse will be visible in Boston. The total eclipse can be seen in a long, narrow path spanning from the west coast in Oregon all the way to the east coast in South Carolina.

The partial eclipse means only a percentage of the sun will be covered by the moon—63 percent, to be exact.

“As the moon moves in front of the sun, the moon appears to take a bite out of the sun,” says Richard P. Binzel, Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To experience the natural phenomenon, all you have to do is go outside and find a spot to observe the sun where there aren’t any trees or buildings in the way. The eclipse will reach its maximum in Boston around 2:47 p.m.

During the eclipse, Boston will get noticeably darker. Binzel describes it as if a few clouds were covering the sun. But don’t be fooled. Just because the sun is partially hidden doesn’t mean you can stare directly at it. The ultraviolet rays of the sun are still at work.

With the help of eclipse glasses, spectators can look at the sun during the partial eclipse phases. NASA recommends three brands that make glasses strong enough for eclipses: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, and Thousand Oaks Optical. Only when the sun is 100 percent blocked by the moon can you look at it without these glasses. For that total eclipse experience, you’ll have to trek to somewhere in the eclipse’s direct path.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this eclipse. NASA even made a website to commemorate the event, encouraging people to host their own eclipse viewing parties.

It is unlike any natural phenomenon that one has ever seen, because when the sun disappears, everything changes by the factor of a million,” says Binzel. “Instantly you get a million times darker, you are plunged into night at that moment of total eclipse and for two and a half minutes the sun is gone. The stars come out, the temperature drops, everything feels eerie and strange and wrong, even scary.”

The total eclipse is a long time coming, according to Binzel. The last total eclipse visible in North America occurred in 1979. The last cross-country eclipse, where the path of the eclipse goes from coast to coast, happened in 1918, a year very familiar to Red Sox fans.

“The Red Sox 1918 World Series victory was also the year of a total solar eclipse,” says Binzel. “So maybe that’s an omen for the 2017 Red Sox.”

When will Boston be in the path of a total eclipse? Not until May 1, 2079. If you can’t wait that long, there’s another total eclipse on April 8, 2024. That one spans from Texas up to Northern Maine and can be seen around northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and north-central Maine. 


Abbi Matheson Abbi Matheson, Editorial Intern at Boston Magazine amatheson@bostonmagazine.com