How to prepare for the solar eclipse

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On Monday, August 21, all eyes will be on the skies for an event unlike any we’ve seen across the United States in nearly a century - a coast to coast solar eclipse.  So now is the time to prepare for what we’ll see here and how to make the most of this extraordinary experience.

It is being called the “Great American Solar Eclipse” because it will be seen across the entire continental U.S.

Scott Harris, a planetary geologist at Fernbank Science Center, says we haven’t had a coast to coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years.

This one will be different than the eclipse that occurred in Georgia in 1984. That one was considered an "annular" solar eclipse where the moon was at a distance from earth where it covered 99 percent of the sun instead of 100 percent."

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Harris explains that a total solar eclipse is even more amazing.  

"What’s really special, is when we have the situation where the moon is at exactly the right distance that it completely covers the sun,” he says. And for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, northeast Georgia will be in the unique position to see that: “totality”…when the entire sun is blotted out by the moon’s shadow.  

More from NASA here

What to expect in Georgia

Far northeast Georgia, including Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Hiawassee, Helen, Clayton, and Toccoa, is in the path of totality. This is where day will appear to turn to night for about a minute and a half to two and a half minutes starting around 2:35 p.m. on August 21.

"In totality, the stars, the brighter stars will come out," Harris says. 

So how dramatic will the effects be in metro Atlanta? The metro area will see somewhere between 97 to 99 percent of the sun’s light blocked. However, Harris cautions that the 1 percent to 3 percent of the sunlight that gets through is still a lot and is literally the difference between night and day.  

"The sky may get a little funny, but sorry, it doesn’t get dark," Harris says. "If you’re not looking for it, you’ll probably miss it.”

However, if you are looking for it, you’ll get a spectacular view of the moon crossing the sun. Just remember to be safe and protect your eyes. 

Viewing the eclipse safely

Harris says many people ask if there is something specifically more dangerous about the sun during an eclipse compared to other times of year.

"The answer is of course no.  It is just as dangerous now as it is during the eclipse or during any other time.  You don’t look directly at the sun unless you want to damage your eyes.”

Solar eclipse glasses – which somewhat resemble 3D movie glasses -  use a specially prepared mylar film to allow you to look at the sun without doing damage to your retina that could cause temporary or permanent blindness. Harris says that if they are the proper glasses, you won’t be able to see anything through them except the sun.

And while solar eclipse glasses will be a popular option for viewing the total solar eclipse, beware, there are glasses on the market that are not safe. You want to make sure your glasses have an i.s.o certification. It will state on the glasses that they meet the iso 2312-2 safety requirements. 

You also need to make sure the lenses aren’t scratched or wrinkled.

Anyone outside of the path of totality will need to wear the glasses for the entire duration of the eclipse. Only those people in the path of totality, when it goes dark outside for about two minutes, can remove the glasses during that time. But once totality ends, the glasses must go back on to prevent damage to your retina.

Still, Harris says one of the best ways of viewing the sun is indirectly. And for that, he says the tried-and-true pin hole projector method is safest.  

"You can take a shoebox, make a small hole on one end, put a little projection screen, white paper, on the opposite end of the box, direct that towards the sun.” 

MORE: How to make a pinhole projector

If viewing through a telescope, you have to have the proper filter on it for safe viewing. Also, if you are compelled to take photographs using your phone, one easy way to do that without damaging the camera, is to take an extra pair of eclipse glasses to cover the lens of your phone camera.

Finally, experts urge you to take eye safety seriously! They say you may not realize how much damage is done until it is too late. Dark sunglasses, for instance, are absolutely *no* substitute for proper eclipse viewing eye wear.

Will the weather cooperate?

Of course, the wild card in all of this will be the weather. The National Weather Service has compiled information based on climate records on the likelihood a location will experience cloud cover on August 21.  Based on climatology, the western U.S. will have the best shot at getting a clear view. The chances drop east of the Mississippi, where clouds are more likely to interfere.

If we get rain or even passing clouds at the wrong time, Harris says you’ll simply have to wait for 2024, when the next total solar eclipse will affect the U.S. However, that one will not go from coast to coast, but instead will move across Texas, Arkansas, Indiana and across areas where the northeastern U.S. borders Canada. 

Unfortunately, Georgia will not be in the path of totality during that eclipse.

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