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A total eclipse maybe not of the heart, but of the sun

July 14, 2017

Next month, many at NASA’s Johnson Space Center will experience a first-in-a-lifetime event. On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be visible from the contiguous United States for the first time since February 1979. Although the path of totality does not fall across Johnson, there are still many reasons to be excited about this historic event.

Here at Johnson, a main focus for the eclipse will be the unique viewing platform offered by the International Space Station. It is anticipated that the station crew will be able to see the shadow of the moon across North America from 250 miles in the sky. Using both video and still imagery, the orbiting laboratory will be able to offer spectacular views, regardless of the weather on the ground.

Many Johnson scientists and employees will be traveling to sites along the eclipse path to serve as subject-matter experts (SMEs), or simply to experience the total eclipse firsthand. For those who will remain on-site, be on the lookout for employee-engagement events and viewing parties. With greater than 60 percent of the sun covered at the point of greatest eclipse here in Houston, there will be some fantastic photo and viewing opportunities.

As employees, students, friends and family prepare for this uncommon event, safety is of the utmost importance. Some key points to remember include that it is never safe to look directly at the sun, even during a partial eclipse (as will be seen in Houston and surrounding areas). Standard sunglasses will not do the trick, either. A pair of solar-viewing glasses, specially made for direct viewing of the sun, are required to look at the eclipse. These glasses will be available for purchase at the Starport gift shops, as well as online retailers.

Alternatively, making a pinhole projector will allow for safe viewing of the shadow of the sun.  For anyone wanting to take pictures, make sure to use solar filters for camera lenses to avoid damage.

NASA is planning a wide variety of activities to mark this occasion, with every NASA center participating in some way. Several cities along the path of totality will host NASA speakers and SMEs. NASA TV is planning a broadcast following the path of the eclipse across the country, and every NASA center will experience a portion of the eclipse, weather permitting.

As part of the Johnson team, it is likely that friends and family will reach out to you to share your thoughts on this unique phenomenon. Remember to emphasize safety and proper viewing techniques. And, for those with students, note that Aug. 21 is the first day of school for the Clear Creek Independent School District. Help remind your children’s teachers of this unusual, educational opportunity that also serves as an exciting way to start the school year. 

Here’s to hoping for clear skies in August because, if not, the next chance for a total solar eclipse in North America isn’t until 2024!
Pumped about the eclipse? Show your spirit with a special NASA 2017 Total Eclipse viewing package promotion, available through the Starport Gift Shops or online. Get a T-shirt, viewing glasses and decal—all for $9 or $10 (depending on your size selection). Gift-shop customers can substitute the eclipse decal for the NASA logo decal at the time of purchase, or pick up the eclipse decal once they arrive (anticipated the week of July 17 to 21). Baseball caps are also available if that’s more your jam. But hurry—all orders must be received by July 19.

Visualization of Aug. 21 total solar eclipse
On Aug. 21, 2017, the Earth will cross the shadow of the moon, creating a total solar eclipse. Eclipses happen about every six months, but this one is special. For the first time in almost 40 years, the path of the moon's shadow passes through the continental United States. This visualization shows the Earth, moon, and sun at 17:05:40 UTC during the eclipse. Image Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Jason T. Smith
NASA Johnson Space Center
This image was taken from the Mir space station during a solar eclipse on Aug. 11, 1999. The shadow of the moon was projected onto Earth.
This image was taken from the Mir space station during a solar eclipse on Aug. 11, 1999. The shadow of the moon was projected onto Earth.