On August 1st a very narrow corridor of the Earth will be treated to a special treat - a total solar eclipse. The areas that will be touched include parts of Northern Canada, Siberia, Western Mongolia and China.
The moon's penumbra (see below) will encompass a wider region, resulting in a partial solar eclipse in Eastern North America and most of Europe and Asia.
While solar eclipses are not rare, total solar eclipses are coveted events because they cover very narrow corridors of the Earth and don't occur at the same spots very often. For example, the last total solar eclipse seen in North America occurred on February 26, 1979 and the next one is not until August 21st, 2017!
Also when they do occur, total eclipses last for very short periods of time. In fact the longest duration of a total solar eclipse is seven and a half minutes.
However, a total eclipse is one of the most amazing sights in the world.
The sky takes on a strange glow as the bright sun is completely blocked by the dark moon. The moon's outline is beautifully lit up by the Sun's ray's trying to escape from behind. This is the extended outer atmosphere of the Sun and is known as the Sun's Corona. Scientists take these rare and fleeting opportunities to figure out conducting experiments to figure out various things why it is so hot or what causes solar flames and if they can be predicted.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, so that the Sun is partially or totally covered. Solar eclipses can only occur during new moon, when the moon is between the Earth and the Sun. Whether it will be a total or partial eclipse depends on where the moon is in its orbit. Since the moon's orbit around the earth is not perfectly round but oval, it's distance from the Earth varies from about 221,500 to 252,000 miles. Whenever its orbit brings it closer to the Earth, it appears larger then the Sun, and when the three align, a total eclipse occurs.
While total solar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye, partial are not. That's because the reflection emits intense infrared and ultra violet radiation, which can cause permanent eye damage, even if exposed only for a few minutes. Hence protective glasses should always be worn while watching a solar eclipse.
Over the years, total solar eclipses have become a major tourist draw. Currently, a number of tour companies in Siberia and China are offering overnight tours to view the August 1st total solar eclipse.
Don't forget to watch the two amazing videos below. The first one was shot in Turkey during the last total solar eclipse in 2006. Watch how the beautiful sunny day turns to night and back to sunny again as the eclipse ends.
NASA's STEREO spacecraft filmed the second video - the disk zooming across is the moon passing in front of the sun - simply amazing!
Sources: Mr. Eclipse.com, Wikipedia.org, Space.com