Solar eclipse August 2017: How to watch this year’s ‘special’ eclipse

Rob Waugh
·Contributor

On August 21 this year, people across America will see the sun disappear behind the moon – turning the sky dark, making the temperature drop and animals fall silent.

This year’s ‘total solar eclipse’ in America – which has been described as the Great American Total Solar Eclipse – will be visible from Britain too (although it won’t be quite as spectacular).

Eclipse-watchers from around the world are expected to descend on America to view the eclipse from the ‘path of totality’ – a 70-mile-wide strip where the sun will genuinely disappear.

What is a total solar eclipse?

A ‘total solar eclipse’ is where the moon appears to completely cover the Sun in the sky – and the sky actually turns dark.

They’re quite rare, occurring only every 18 months or so, and each one is only visibible from a specific area.

The last one in the UK happened in March 2015, when 84% of the sun was blocked out for viewers in London.

In a total solar eclipse, the sky turns dark, it gets colder, and sometimes features from the sun are visible flaring out around the moon.

‘It brings people to tears. It makes people’s jaw drop,’ Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Why does it happen?

The diameter of the Sun is 400 times that of the moon – but it’s about 400 times further away.

This means that if you’re in the right place, the moon can ‘block’ the sun – for a brief period of time.

What else can happen?

The darkening sky triggers night-time behaviour (aka going quiet and/or sleeping) in birds.

Meanwhile, nocturnal animals such as bats and owls will wake up, although frankly you’ll be very lucky if you notice this.

Where can I see the total solar eclipse?

The ‘path of totality’ is a 70-mile-wide strip stretching across America from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21.

From here, sun-watchers will be able to see the total eclipse.

From elsewhere, people will see a partial solar eclipse – where the moon ‘takes a bite’ out of the sun’s disc.

What can I see from the UK – and when?

The August 21 eclipse will be visible from the UK at around 8pm local time – although it won’t be spectacular from here, with just 4% of the sun’s disc obscured.

From London (it’s broadly similar for most UK cities), it will start at 7.40Pm and hit its maxim at 8.04PM according to Vercalendario.info.

When is the next total solar eclipse in the UK?

You’ll have to wait a while – the next one will happen on September 23, 2090.

There will be a significant partial one on August 12, 2026 – where 95% of the sun will be obscured.