9 Extraordinary Facts You Didn’t Know about the Solar Eclipse

Don't blink! The once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse is happening soon. Here's what you should know.

Split Oreo with one part cream side up being eclipsed by its other half that skirts from right to left

It seems like all anyone can talk about right now is the total solar eclipse. That means sun-protective glasses, sun-and-moon recipes, and plenty of skywatching…but why? If you’re still wondering what the big deal is with this whole eclipse business, confused as to why many people requested the day off, and puzzled that hotels have been selling out months in advance, well, here’s all the information under the sun.

1. An Event Like This Doesn’t Happen Every Year

On Aug. 21, 2017, Americans will have the unique opportunity to observe what has been deemed the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. Even though the sun and moon overlap every 18 months, they don’t cross this perfectly very often-and even less often can it be viewed so clearly in the United States. We haven’t had the chance to see one that ran from sea to shining sea since 1918. Can’t watch this year? The next one will be in 2024.

2. It’s Not Your Typical Solar Eclipse

If you live in the 70-mile-wide “path of totality” that spans from Oregon to South Carolina, you’re in luck: You’ll be able to see a total solar eclipse. In this region, the moon is just the right distance away from the sun to block it out completely when the two align, causing the entire area to descend into darkness. Read: It’ll look like nighttime in the middle of the day.

But what if you won’t be viewing the eclipse in this region? Trust me, the event will still be cool. For you, the moon will cover a piece of the sun-but not the entire thing. No pitch-black darkness for you!

3. You Might See Something Amazing

If a total eclipse wasn’t cool enough on its own, wait until you hear that it’s the only time when it’s possible for humans to see the corona with the naked eye. What’s that, you ask? The corona is the sun’s outer atmosphere, only visible when the moon is covering the brighter portion of the star. This supposedly looks like curling ribbons of light, an experience so surreal that it brings some people to tears. Psst. There’s more than one way to experience colorful ribbons.

Solar eclipse set on a beautiful sunset with oranges and yellows illuminating small clouds and dark blue hues bordering the scene

Shutterstock / Igor Zh.

4. The Eclipse Will Last Only About 2 Minutes

And that’s if you’re lucky. At most, the moon can cover the sun for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, but the farther you travel from the path of totality, the shorter the eclipse will be.

5. These Residents Have the Best View

The small college town of Carbondale, Ill., is the cross-section of two paths of totality: one for this year’s solar eclipse and one for the next one, in 2024. In both of these instances, Carbondale will experience the eclipse for the longest duration, being right in the center of the path. To prepare, they’re selling out seats in the Southern Illinois University stadium for $25 per person with hotel rooms upward of $400 a night. (Yikes-that’s pricey. Looks like you’re going to need some tips to save money on vacation.)

6. Don’t Wear Sunglasses

If you’re planning on looking at this once-in-a-lifetime event yourself, be sure not to look directly at the sun. That is, unless it is completely covered by the moon. Viewing a partial eclipse (that’s the name for when the sun and moon overlap imperfectly) is incredibly dangerous for skywatchers. Many stores have begun selling solar viewing glasses in honor of this event, but if you’re not willing to buy a pair, don’t use sunglasses instead. They aren’t strong enough to protect your eyes from the bright light.

7. The Traffic Will Be Bad

NASA has predicted that Aug. 21 might just be one of the worst traffic days in national history. We can see why-who wouldn’t want to stop their car for a minute to watch the Earth descend into darkness? Some estimates say perhaps as many as 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the path of totality, which means a lot of people are going to be traveling to see it. If you’re one of them, make sure you plan ahead because traffic isn’t going to be pretty. And if you’re hosting? Check to make sure you’ve included all of the overnight guest essentials.

8. There Are Even Special Stamps in Honor of This Eclipse

All kinds of people are getting excited-even the U.S. Postal Service. They’ve released a special stamp with temperature-sensitive ink in honor of the event. It looks like a typical blacked-out sun until you press your finger on it. The heat-sensitive paper then reveals a moon.

9. Krispy Kreme Is Making Donuts to Mark the Event

It’s your once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a glazed donut from Krispy Kreme eclipse style. For the night of the 21st (and also during evening Hot Light hours on Aug. 19 and 20), the classic donut glaze will be replaced with chocolate at participating locations. Forget the traffic jams on the way to the Path of Totality… we’re going straight to the donut shop!

That should be everything you need to know. Now you just have to wait for Aug. 21. Until then, we’ll be getting ready: decorating our houses for the best outdoor party of the year and, of course, serving up these fudgy cheesecake moons.

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