Learn why this solar eclipse is a big deal, when you can see ir and how to view the it safely in Milwaukee on August 21.

On August 21, 2017, the solar eclipse will sweep across the United States, going coast to coast for the first time in 99 years. Before you take part in arguably the biggest astronomical event of the decade, and inevitably try to resist playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that day, this is what you need to know.

A solar eclipse is when the moon blocks the light of the sun and its shadow covers the Earth. The Umbra, or dark part of the shadow, barely reaches the Earth, which is why total solar eclipses are rare.

2017, Solar Eclipse, August 21, Partial Solar Eclipse, Bonadurer, Milwaukee Public Museum

The Path of the Total Solar Eclipse. Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum

“This eclipse, the total part of it, will be seen by more people than any other eclipse,” Milwaukee Public Museum Planetarium Director Robert Bonadurer said. “For us this is a really great chance as an astronomer and an educator to have people learn about [eclipses] and learn about the world around them and to make those connections.”

2017, Solar Eclipse, August 21, Partial Solar Eclipse, Bonadurer, Milwaukee Public Museum

Partial Solar Eclipse Times. Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum

While the eclipse will be going from coast to coast, not everyone in the United States will see the total eclipse from their homes. Most of the United States will see a partial eclipse, including Milwaukee. Milwaukee will see 83 percent of the sun covered up by the moon. The prime time to see this will happen at 1:18 PM.

Bonadurer wants everyone to experience this rare event. However, he stresses the importance of safety when viewing the solar eclipse: Don’t look directly at it.

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“Even though 83 percent will be gone, that 17 percent can still ruin your retinas,” Bonadurer said.

There are different ways to experience the solar eclipse in Milwaukee safely. “We sell solar eclipse glasses at the museum shop,” Bonadurer said. “We will have a viewing here at the Milwaukee Public Museum. We will have some telescopes out by Wells Street, and those telescopes will have special filters so that people can view the it safely.”

There is a way to take part in viewing this event if you do not have a pair of glasses available. By using a pinhole technique, you can make a tiny hole and align it so the sun shines through the hole onto a bright surface like the sidewalk or a piece of white paper. However, you still should not look directly at the sun through the hole.

“There are different ways you can make little holes: you can use a postcard and put a hole in it, or you can take your hand and make a small circle with your hand,” Bonadurer said. “You could also use your kitchen colander. The light will go through all the holes of the colander. It just has to be in line with the sun and it has to be shined onto a bright surface. Those are the two key pieces.”

2017, Solar Eclipse, August 21, Partial Solar Eclipse, Bonadurer, Milwaukee Public Museum

The total solar eclipse. Courtesy of NASA

The next solar eclipse that will happen in the United States will be in 2024, but Milwaukeeans will still need to travel to the path of totality. The last time a total solar eclipse went through Milwaukee was in 1379, and the next total solar eclipse that will go through Milwaukee will be 2099.

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As Bonadurer prepares to take a group on a five-day tour down to St. Louis to the path of totality, he is hopeful for good weather. “We are extremely excited, a little anxious and anxiety ridden worrying about the weather. We are excited though. We have many people in our group who have never seen one before.”

This will be Bonadurer’s fifth time going to see a total solar eclipse. Bonadurer said it is hard to explain the experience of a partial versus a total solar eclipse to someone who has never seen one before. “A total solar eclipse, well there is nothing that tops the list for me,” Bonadurer said. “One author equated the two experiences as: the partial is nice like flying an airplane. It’s going to be a nice experience. But a total solar eclipse is like jumping out of the airplane.”