Editor’s note: This article was first published on Friday, August 4 and has been updated with the most recent information.
A once in a blue moon opportunity is about to take place in North America on August 21: A total solar eclipse.
This phenomenon, when the moon moves between the Earth and the sun to create a total solar eclipse and casts a shadow over our planet, last occurred in the U.S. in 1979. The last time a total solar eclipse occurred in Philly? 1478.
While a total solar eclipse will only be witnessed in fourteen states—sorry, Pennsylvania is not included—a partial social eclipse will still be seen all throughout the country, including in Philadelphia.
“This is still an excellent opportunity to watch one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the mechanics of the heavens that is possible to view,” says Franklin Institute’s head astronomer Derrick Pitts.
We caught up with Pitts before he heads out to the midwest for the big event to learn everything Philly should know about the solar eclipse.
When to see the eclipse
Philly will experience a partial solar eclipse on August 21 from 1:21 p.m. to 4 p.m. For best results, set your alarm for 2:44 p.m.—that’s when the maximum solar eclipse will occur here, with 79.9 percent of the sun covered by the moon.
“For us, what that means is the appearance of the sky and our surroundings will be as if there’s a thin cloud cover, like a part cloudy sky almost,” says Pitts. “So we won’t have the dark experience where you can see the corona of the sun, where you can see planets and bright stars.”
If you want to see the solar eclipse in its totality, head to the Franklin Institute, which will be hosting a viewing party from 12 to 4 p.m. Pitts will be in Missouri, where he’ll live broadcast the total solar eclipse.
The Wagner Science Institute will also host a viewing party from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Where to see the eclipse
Can’t make it to a viewing party? Our pals at Vox have this handy tool that tells you how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to see in your zip code.
If you can get out of town for the event, Pitts says he would go down to the shore for great views of the partial solar eclipse.
If all else fails, just find a place where the sun is in view, says Pitts. Think rooftop bars, rooftops, open spaces, etc.
How to watch the eclipse
Whatever you do, don’t stare directly at the sun. Protect your orbs and enjoy the rare view by wearing special eclipse sunglasses—they’ll be on hand at the Wagner Science Institute and the Franklin Institute.
Or make your own pinhole camera device. All you need is some paper, tin foil, scissors and tape. The Franklin Institute has the DIY directions here.
Don’t bother with sunglasses, either. “Under no circumstances are regular sunglasses appropriate for trying to view this,” says Pitts.
Philly’s next total solar eclipse
Save the date: The year 2079 is the next time Philly will experience a total solar eclipse in which the moon completely covers the sun.
Yes, that’s a long ways away. If it’s any conciliation, a portion of Pennsylvania will fare much better for the next total solar eclipse in 2024, so start planning your trip now.
“The path of totality stretches from the Gulf Coast up into Canada and it skirts northwestern Pennsylvania,” says Pitts of the 2024 eclipse. “So a tiny little piece, that northwestern corner, of Pennslyvania will be in the path of totality.”
We’ll update this post as more information becomes available in the weeks leading up to the eclipse.
- A solar eclipse is coming to America. Here’s what you’ll see where you live. [Vox]
- Eclipse 2017 [NASA]
- 2017 North American Solar Eclipse [Franklin Institute]