Tonight people will get to witness one of earth’s most remarkable natural phenomenons – a solar eclipse.
On August 21 those standing in the moon’s shadow will see the silhouette of the moon move in front of the sun until it appears like a burning ring of light.
Even if you’re not in a position to witness a full eclipse you still might catch a partial eclipse.
So, if you want to make sure you’re in a prime spot to catch the event, here’s what you need to know.
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, and can give the illusion that the moon is passing directly in front of the sun.
When the moon appears to completely obscure the view of the sun, it is known as a total solar eclipse. If part of the sun is still visible, it is known as a partial solar eclipse. Most people are more likely to witness the latter than the former.
Solar eclipses occur because the moon orbits the Earth at an average of 239,000 miles – which is just the right distance for it to appear the same size in the sky as the much larger sun, which is 93 million miles away.
This means that when the moon passes in front of the sun, it is appears to cover it perfectly.
How can I watch the solar eclipse?
Unfortunately, the best place to witness this solar eclipse is the United States.
The “path of totality” where the total solar eclipse is visible runs right through the middle of the US and the best states to view it are Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
What about in the UK?
For those of us in the UK, we will also witness a partial solar eclipse – although it may be a little underwhelming, as only 4% of the sun will be covered by the moon.
The total solar eclipse will of course be available to view live on the NASA website.
What time is the solar eclipse?
The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 15:46 GMT on August 21. It will reach the coast of Oregon at Lincoln City, just west of Salem, at 16:04 GMT (09:04 local time).
For us lot watching in the UK, the eclipse will start shortly after 18:30 GMT (19:30 local time), and reach its maximum at about 19:00 GMT (20:00 local time).
As the eclipse occurs very close to sunset in the UK, those in the north have the best chance of seeing it, as it will be lighter for longer. Good news for Manchester.
What route will the eclipse take?
NASA has produced an interactive map to show the path of the eclipse and give information on the best times to see it.
To find out exactly when the eclipse will be visible in the location where you plan to observe it, just click on a spot on the map, and an informational box will appear with specific times.