A Solar Eclipse

Eclipse

Eclipse 101

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and blocks the bright light of the Sun’s surface from view. The shadow of the Moon will fall in a small path on Earth’s surface, called the zone of totality. Learn more > 

How do you view the solar eclipse safely?

In the shadow, during the few minutes of totality when the Sun is completely blocked, you can view the total solar eclipse without any eye protection. Anywhere outside that zone, view the partial solar eclipse with safe solar viewers, make a pinhole projection, or add a safe solar filter to your telescope. NSTA has a free eclipse observing guide, and NASA has a step-by-step eclipse safety guide. Learn more >

Gallery

  • A young visitor at the Udvar-Hazy Center observes the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 with safe eclipse glasses.

    Viewing the solar eclipse

    A young visitor at the Udvar-Hazy Center observes the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 with safe eclipse glasses.

  • Lunar Eclipse Diagram

    Lunar Eclipse Diagram

    This diagram shows the progression of the total lunar eclipse on December 20th and December 21st, 2010. Each number corresponds with the beginning of a specific stage in the eclipse. 1) Partial eclipse begins 2) Total eclipse beings 3) Mid-eclipse 4) Total eclipse ends 5) Partial eclipse ends

    Moon images courtesy of Nathan S. Barrow.
    (Diagram created by Shelley Witte)

  • Visitors observe a lunar eclipse in 2014 using telescopes at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

    Observe the Lunar Eclipse

    Visitors observe a lunar eclipse in 2014 using telescopes at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Videos: Lightning Lessons

Teacher Resources

A solar eclipse is a unique chance to engage students in first-hand astronomy. Simple activities like building projection viewers with a cereal-box or hole-punched card, and exploring the scale of the Sun and Moon through observation and eclipse modeling, are great ways to introduce the subject in the classroom. More in-depth lessons that replicate the Moon phases can help students understand why and how eclipses happen. Encourage students and their families to find easy and safe ways to observe the eclipse, whether from home or at school. There are more educator resources available from NASA and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Eclipse Stories

We're exploring all things eclipse, from historical accounts to stories from eclipse chasers. 

Advice From An Eclipse Chaser

As a volunteer at the National Air and Space Museum, I’ve been talking to visitors about astronomy for 28 years. Right now is an exciting time to be volunteering here thanks to the total solar eclipse that will happen this summer. As an astronomy enthusiast and an eclipse chaser, I have some great advice to share on how best to view the 2017 eclipse. 

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The Death of a King, End to a War, and the Solar Eclipse

The United States will play host to an extraordinary phenomenon known as a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth.  Eclipses have occurred throughout history, and some have fascinating stories associated with them. Take the following two tales for example.

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Viewing A Solar Eclipse Safely through an Artist’s Eye

In this Van Dyke Brown photographic print from the from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum art collection, Jim Leisy (1950 – 2014) shows us one way to safely view a solar eclipse.  On first glance we see an unidentified person wandering aimlessly in a dreamy atmosphere with a box over their head. As the title Solar Eclipse suggests, the cosmic observer is actually catching a glimpse of the fleeting phenomenon with a pinhole projector.

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Beyond Totality: Appreciating the Partial Eclipse

If you can’t be “in the path” on August 21, don’t lose heart! You can still see the eclipse from outside that limited region. The partial phases of the eclipse (when the Moon only partially blocks the Sun) will be visible over a huge area, from Greenland to Brazil and from Hawaii to Cape Verde. Here are some reasons why your partial eclipse experience will be awesome.

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