A total solar eclipse will be visible from Western Europe, Northeastern Asia, Northwestern Africa, North America, the northern half of South America and various parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans on August 21. A solar eclipse occurs whenever the moon comes between Earth and the sun, blocking it momentarily. This is only possible during a new moon when the two celestial objects exist in an alignment known as a syzygy.

If the moon had a perfectly circular orbit in space and was in the same orbital plane, a total solar eclipse would occur every month. Instead, the moon’s orbit is tilted over 5 degrees off from the Earth’s orbit around the sun, very commonly making its shadow at new moon miss Earth.

The Earth and the moon intersect at a line of nodes causing between two and five solar eclipses each year. No more than two of these eclipses can be total solar eclipses, however.

In certain ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses are considered supernatural and thought of as bad omens. This is especially true for those with little background in astronomy, wherein the sun is seen disappearing during daytime and the sky becomes dark quickly.

Looking at the sun directly can cause permanent eye damage, which is why special eye protection or indirect viewing is needed for viewing a solar eclipse. It is technically possible to view a total solar eclipse without protection during the total phase. This is not recommended, however, as different phases of an eclipse are highly difficult to differentiate between. The total phase lasts for no more than 7.5 minutes in any given location.

Astronomy enthusiasts, known as eclipse chasers or umbraphiles, travel to remote areas to observe or witness where central solar eclipses are predicted to occur.

Interestingly, the sun’s distance from Earth is 400 times greater than the moon’s distance. The sun’s diameter is also about 400 times greater than the moon’s. Because of this, the sun and the moon appear to be approximately the same size in the night sky. Despite this, both the moon and the Earth follow elliptical orbits around Earth and the sun respectively, causing the apparent sizes of the sun and the moon to fluctuate over time.

For more information on celestial events, and to track dates and times when they occur, visit https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/list.html.

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