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This is why NASA says the solar eclipse will be WAY cooler than any before it!

Shelby County residents who miss this year's eclipse will have to wait another couple of decades for a similar event. The next total solar eclipses visible in the contiguous US will be in 2044 and 2045, but neither will cut through Cleveland or Indianapolis.

What is a solar eclipse and how can parents explain this concept to their kids in a child-friendly way?

Solar eclipses happen when the Moon gets in between the Earth and the Sun in just the right spot to block our view of the Sun from Earth. Solar eclipses happen because of an amazing cosmic coincidence: the Moon is way smaller than the Sun, but it is also much closer to the Earth than the Sun is. So the Moon and the Sun just happen to look about the same size from our point of view when we see them in the sky. (Never look directly at the Sun, of course!) Therefore, as the Moon orbits the Earth, on rare occasions it can appear to block out the Sun.

Imagine you have a tennis ball, a beach ball, and a golf ball. Let’s pretend the beach ball is the Sun, the tennis ball is the Earth, and the golf ball is the Moon. Imagine the tennis ball and golf ball are really far away from the beach ball. When all three line up, sometimes it can look like the golf ball perfectly blocks out our view of the beach ball, even though the beach ball “Sun” is a lot bigger than the golf ball “Moon.”

There are three types of solar eclipses:

  1. an annular eclipse appears as a bright ring around the moon

  2. a partial eclipse only partly blocks the sun

  3. in a total eclipse, the moon seems to cover the sun entirely

In 2017, the continental US had its first coast-to-coast total eclipse since 1918. Portions of 14 states were in the path, but populated cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, were not.

This year the path of the eclipse spreads from Mexico to northeastern Canada with Shelby County positioned for prime total eclipse viewing.

On April 8, 2024, the solar eclipse will be at the peak of its path, called totality, and will last slightly longer than ANY before it (3-4 minutes).

Solar eclipses are kind of a big deal in the scientific community. "They provide you with the opportunity to do experiments that you cannot do otherwise," Nour E. Raouafi, an astrophysicist with Johns Hopkins University, said during the roundtable.

An eclipse in 1919 proved Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, he said.

NASA and other institutions will be using radar, balloons, spacecraft, and jets to perform experiments and gather data during the eclipse. NASA is interested in tracking changes to density, wind speed, and temperatures at the ionosphere — part of the Earth's upper atmosphere — during the event.

How can parents and kids safely observe the eclipse together?

Because the Sun is so bright, it can damage your eyes if you look directly at it. So it’s important to understand how to safely view the total solar eclipse. The good news is there are lots of ways to do this. NASA’s eclipse website and the Exploratorium’s website are great resources. Here are a few tips:


Use your hands or even a tree to view images of the Sun on the ground. Loosely interlace your fingers so that sunlight can shine through them, then watch the images of the Sun that you see on the ground. Or you can look at the images of the Sun on the ground that shine through the holes in the tree’s leaves. Sometimes it helps to put a white piece of paper on the ground to see the images better.


Build what is called a “pinhole viewer”for looking at an image of the Sun that is dim enough to view safely. The simplest way to do this uses two sheets of stiff white paper and a pin. (You can see an example from NASA here, at the bottom of the page.) Punch the tiniest hole you can make with the pin in one sheet of paper, then go outside and aim the hole at the Sun — but don’t look at the Sun, either through the hole or directly. Move the other piece of paper up so that the image of the Sun falls on it, and move that piece of paper back and forth until the image looks crisp and sharp. You can also build fancier versions of this type of pinhole viewer using cardboard tubes or boxes.


Get special eclipse-viewing glasses. These are NOT sunglasses, which will not protect your eyes adequately. Make sure they meet the proper standard for eclipse-viewing glasses. (There are currently five manufacturers that have certified that their eclipse glasses meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for such products: American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium [AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only], Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.)

What can families do in Shelby County before, during, and after the eclipse?

Shelby County Tourism and Visitor's Bureau has partnered with the community to create Eclipse Shelby County, a hub of all attractions, events, and places to stay during the weekend of the total eclipse viewing. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date as they continue to add all things Shelby County fun that weekend!


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