Will You See August’s Great Eclipse? This New Tool Helps You Find Out

Just plug in a zip code and the solar simulator will show when the big event will pass overhead

Rick Feinberg

The date is etched in the minds of millions of people: August 21, 2017. On this day, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, resulting in a total solar eclipse that will darken a diagonal path across the states. This will be the first total eclipse to traverse the United States from coast to coast since 1918.

The total eclipse will be visible from a narrow 72-mile-wide strip, stretching across 14 states from Oregon through South Carolina. Most other states will still be able to glimpse a partial eclipse. But if you are wondering when to look up, researchers at the University of California and google have a solution, Hannah Osborne reports for Newsweek: an eclipse simulator.

Just enter a zip code or city and the animation will show how much of our sun will be blocked by the moon in any given location over the three hour period of the eclipse (sped up for convenience to 1,000 to 4,000 times normal speed). “There are lots of online animations of the 2017 eclipse, but you can’t use them like ours to get a sense of the full experience, including your surroundings,” Dan Zevin part of the team that put together the simulator says in a press release. “Our simulation is closer to what one might experience in a planetarium show.”

While the simulator is cool, it’s part of a larger project called the Eclipse Megamovie. According a press release, that project is hoping to crowd source thousands of images of the eclipse, stitching them together to recreate its 90-minute trek across the U.S. (For people along the main path of the eclipse, the event will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds.)

The researchers are currently seeking 400 amateur astronomers and astronomy groups to take high resolution images. The photographers need a DSLR camera on a tripod that is GPS enabled and can keep time down to the second. They are also being asked to take a one hour webinar on collecting the data. The general public can also participate by downloading a special app that will allow them to take time-coded photos of the eclipse that the researchers will also use to create the movie.

While the end product will be a nice memento of the rare eclipse, it also has scientific value. “The movie is a tool for scientific exploration,” UC Berkeley solar physicist Hugh Hudson, one of the originators of the Megamovie idea, says in the press release. 

Eclipses can help researchers explore the difficult-to-see chromosphere—a thin layer at the base of the sun’s corona. Bright spots that occur around the moon during the eclipse called Bailey’s beads and the “diamond ring effect” can help researchers map features on the surface of the moon as well.

“We’ll be collecting this level of data for the first time, from millions of observers, and it will be a valuable archive," says Hudson. "But we don’t know what we’ll see or what we’ll learn about the interactions between the chromosphere and the corona.”

The simulator and megamovie are not the only eclipse-related projects. NASA for one has a whole slate of eclipse activities, including citizen science projects and instructions to create a pin-hole camera for safe viewing. Then there are dozens of events along the path of the eclipse.

So plug in those zip codes and figure out if the solar eclipse will be coming to a state near you.

Editor's note June 27, 2017: This article has been corrected to show that the eclipse's path of totality will stretch from Oregon to South Carolina and will pass through 14 different states.