Backyard Amateur Astronomer: Solar Eclipse

Orange, cloudy sky with a total solar eclipse hanging in the center

Solar Eclipse: August 21, 2017

On the morning of August 21, 2017, people in the United States will be able to see the total solar eclipse. The path of the eclipse will go from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina before heading out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The last time I saw a solar eclipse was when I was in elementary school in 1979. We had an extra credit assignment to bring a cardboard shoebox from home, so that we could make a pinhole camera to view the eclipse. Back then, we did not have solar eclipse glasses.

The teacher made it very clear that we were not to look directly at the sun during a solar eclipse. A lunar eclipse was fine, but not a solar eclipse. With a hole at one end of the shoebox and a window on the side, we were able to view a projection of the phases of the eclipse. I was very cool to watch. I remember the rest of the day, well after the event was over, we kept yelling at each other on the playground, "Don’t look at the sun!"

Eclipse Basics

Diagram of the difference between a solar and lunar eclipse, in which the new moon stands between the Sun and Earth to cast its shadow for a solar eclipse, whereas the Earth stands between the Moon and Sun for a lunar eclipse.

An eclipse of the Sun happens when the New Moon moves between the Sun and Earth, blocking out the Sun's rays and casting a shadow on parts of Earth. The event on Monday, August 21, will be a total solar eclipse, which occurs when the Moon completely covers the Sun and only happens when the Moon is near perigree, which is the point of the Moon's orbit closest to Earth. The only place to see a total solar eclipse is if you are in the path where the Moon casts its darkest shadow, which is called the umbra. We are not in that path, but it should still be pretty awesome.

According to, in San Jose, we should be able to see the eclipse start at 9:01 AM, be at its maximum at 10:15 AM, and end at 11:38 AM. That's a full 2 hours and 36 minutes, with a 0.79 magnitude, which is a little over three-quarters covered.

Here's a handy countdown to help prepare you for the start of the eclipse in San Jose:

Safe Viewing

Muse Magazine July 1, 2017 Issue Cover

The July/August 2017 issue of Muse magazine has an article called "Ready, Set, Eclipse! An Observer’s Guide to August 2017 Eclipse" by Meg Thacher. The article gives plenty of information about the eclipse. The article ends with an illustrated example of how to make a pinhole camera.

Free Solar Eclipse Glasses

While supplies last, you can get free solar eclipse glasses from the San José Public Library locations. The glasses were donated by the Space Science Institute.

UPDATE: As of August 17, 2017, there are no more free solar eclipses glasses available from San José Public Library. We encourage you to check out the Muse magazine article, which explains how to make a pinhole camera for viewing.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

You will need to attend one of the solar eclipse-themed events to get the free glasses. I’ve already gotten my glasses by attending a solar eclipse workshop.

Personally, I’m going to sit back in my lawn chair and watch the solar eclipse at the Solar Eclipse Meetup in the Park next door to the Evergreen Branch Library on Monday, August 21. I will do some sketching in my sketchbook after the event.

Online Viewing

If you can't find some eclipse viewers or make a pinhole camera, here is a live stream from The Exploratorium:

Capturing the Eclipse Moment

Sky & Telescope Magazine Cover

Whether you are using a cell phone, DSLR (Digital-Single-Lens-Reflex) camera, point-and-shoot camera, or video camera, it is very important to use a solar filter. The August 2017 issue of Sky and Telescope has a cover article, "How to Shoot a Solar Eclipse" by Dennis di Cicco, offering plenty of tips and tricks to photograph the eclipse.

More about the Solar Eclipse

The San José Public Library has plenty of resources about the solar eclipse.


Eclipse bookcover by Duncan SteelAmerican Eclipse by David Baron book cover


Bookcover of Total Eclipses of the Sun by Jack ZirkerBook cover of Totality: Eclipses of the Sun


August 01, 2017 issue of Astronomy

DVDs & Streaming

The Universe: Explore the Edges of the Unknown Season 5 has an episode called "Total Eclipse".

The Universe dvd jacket cover

For Children

Eclipses book coverThe Sun book coverWhat is the moon book cover

Next Total Eclipse in the US: April 8, 2024

I hope you get a chance to see the solar eclipse because the next total solar eclipse to view in the United States will be April 8, 2024.


This is a great, informative, timely article- with useful sources for more information! Thank you so much! Enjoy the eclipse!

Great blog Monique! It is always good to see the library doing their part in getting more people interested in science. Rock on! p.s. "Don't look at the sun!"

PLEASE NOTE: As of August 17, 2017, there are no more free solar eclipses glasses available from San José Public Library locations. We encourage you to check out the Muse magazine article that Monique mentions in this blog post. It explains how to make a pinhole camera and describes other methods for safely viewing the eclipse.

Estuve esperando esta fecha para reunirme con mi comunidad en San José,ya que mencionaban tener free glasses for view the eclipse...

i expect this solar eclipse will add more about the gravitational force between the moon and earth and will open a new research data for the scientist to observe on the surface of the moon how much more denceity of heat had been increased by direct rays th ace of the moon during blockage of light to earth it s surface was containingwith

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