What to Expect: A Solar Eclipse Guide

What to Expect When You're Expecting a Total Solar Eclipse

So You're Expecting an Eclipse?

  • Against a black background is a total solar eclipse. In the middle is a black circle – the Moon. Surrounding it are white streams of wispy light, streaming out into the sky.

    Here’s a guide to help you prepare for the big day.

    The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, was photographed from Madras, Oregon. The black circle in the middle is the Moon. Surrounding it are white streams of light belonging to the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.
    Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Before the Eclipse

First, find out where the eclipse will happen.

If you want to experience the one-of-a-kind phenomenon of a total solar eclipse, you will have to be located within a long but narrow path, usually less than 150 miles wide, called the path of totality.

On the same day, though, a partial solar eclipse will be visible across a much larger area (but not the entire globe). Consult an eclipse map, like this one, to find out where the eclipse will happen and what type of eclipse is visible in different locations.

Download the Map
A map of the contiguous U.S. shows the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse stretching on a narrow band from Texas to Maine.
A total solar eclipse is visible (weather permitting) from locations within the path of totality, shown as a dark gray band across this map of the April 8, 2024, eclipse.
NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison; Eclipse Calculations By Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Second, decide where you will go to watch the eclipse.

If you already live somewhere the eclipse can be seen, great! You don’t have to go anywhere. But if you don’t, you will need to make travel plans.

If you want to see a total eclipse, act fast! Hotels and campgrounds in the path of totality sell out quickly, as many people will travel from far and wide to see the spectacular celestial event of a total solar eclipse. You’ll want to find lodging as early as you can. Otherwise, you might end up paying more than you expect to, or you will have to get creative. Do you have friends or family who live in the path of totality who would be eager to have you visit during the eclipse?

Tents, cars, and telescopes on a field beneath a blue and pink sky.
Many people choose to camp out for a solar eclipse.
Vanessa Thomas

Picking the Perfect Spot

  • Once you know what town or city you will be in, pick a specific location to watch the eclipse.

    Perhaps you can watch from a park, a museum, a library, a school, or a college campus. Many places, especially those in the path of totality, will already be planning events that visitors can attend. Contact a town’s chamber of commerce, science museum, library, or local astronomy club to ask about any events open to the public on eclipse day. You can also find a list of NASA-affiliated events on NASA’s eclipse events webpage.

  • When deciding where you will go, also think about what the weather might be like at your desired location during the eclipse.

    Is your destination likely to have clear skies on eclipse day? If it is cloudy, raining, or snowing, you probably won’t see the eclipse.

    The partially eclipsed Sun can barely be seen as a white crescent through clouds.
    Credits: Vanessa Thomas

  • Bonus tip: If you’re in or near the path of totality, pick an observing spot that is away from any streetlights that might automatically turn on when the sky gets dark.

    You don’t want your experience of nature’s beauty ruined by artificial light!

Third, plan how you will watch the eclipse safely.

It is never safe to look directly at a partially or uneclipsed Sun without proper eye protection. Only during the brief moments of totality during a total solar eclipse, when the Moon completely covers the Sun, can you look directly at a solar eclipse without eye protection.

To view a partial solar eclipse, or the partial phases of a total eclipse, you can use solar viewing glasses (often called “eclipse glasses”) or handheld solar viewers to place in front of your eyes. (Sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for viewing the Sun.) Safe solar viewers are thousands of times darker and ought to comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard.

A group of people stand in a line. They're all looking up, wearing eclipse glasses.
NASA employees use eclipse glasses to view a solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023.
NASA/Liz Landau

Watch Safely

  • Against a landscape of a flat field and mountains, several people look toward the sky while wearing eclipse glasses. One woman looks through a telecope.

    Find Glasses

    You might be able to find glasses at a local library, museum, or school. (Beware of unverified sellers on the internet who try to capitalize on the eclipse and might claim their glasses are safe even though they are not.) Buy or find some glasses or handheld viewers early, before they sell out, and store them in a safe place. (NASA does not approve any particular brand of solar viewers.)

    A group of people use solar viewing glasses and a solar-safe telescope to watch the annular eclipse of Oct. 14, 2023, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
    Credits: NASA/Abbey Interrante

  • A person looks through a telescope. There is a large solar filter blocking the front of the telescope.

    Get a Closer Look

    If you want to use a telescope, binoculars, or camera to view a partial eclipse, you must place a safe solar filter on the front of the device, protecting the optics from the Sun’s intense heat and light. Or you can use special solar telescopes or binoculars that are designed specifically for viewing the Sun, which have solar filters built into the instrument. Visit a vendor that specializes in astronomical equipment to purchase solar filters or other equipment dedicated to solar viewing.

    Someone looks through a telescope with a solar filter.
    Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

  • An illustration shows the silhouette of a person looking into a rectangular box through a hole cut into the end of a box. The Sun appears behind the person. Sunlight streams into the box through a small hole punched into a piece of aluminum foil taped over the Sun-facing end of the box, to the person's left, projecting a crescent Sun onto a white sheet of paper taped to the inside of the box.

    Use an Indirect Method

    You can also use an indirect method to view the partial phases of the eclipse, such as a pinhole projector. This video shows you how to make a simple pinhole projector out of a cardboard box. You can also project sunlight through any small holes, such as holes punched in a piece of cardboard, those in a strainer or colander, the holes in a straw hat, or even the gaps between the fingers of your crossed hands.

    Using a cardboard box, paper, aluminum foil, scissors, and tape, you can create a box pinhole projector to show crescent images of the Sun during the eclipse’s partial phases.
    Credits: NASA/Kristen Perrin

There are multiple ways to view a solar eclipse safely. For example, you can wear solar viewing glasses (often called “eclipse glasses”) or use a handheld solar viewer, you can use binoculars or a telescope that have solar filters installed on them, or you can create a pinhole projector to reveal the crescent shape of the Sun. Watch this video to learn more.
Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

On the Morning of Eclipse Day

Get Ready!

  • A car's speedometer, showing a full tank of gas.

    Check Your Gas Tank

    First, if you’re planning to drive anywhere today, make sure your car has plenty of gas (or charge, if it’s electric). Traffic can be heavy right after the eclipse, and you don’t want to get stranded if you are stuck in long backups. Gas stations can sometimes run out of gas if many travelers are driving to and from the same locations on the same day.

    Make sure your car’s tank is full if you plan to drive anywhere on eclipse day.
    Credits: NASA/Rachel Lense

  • A table with the materials to make a sandwich, a sandwich, and an apple. The table is set out in front of a rocky landscape.

    Pack Some Snacks

    Also, make sure you have enough food and water for the day. Restaurants and grocery stores, especially those in small towns, can get very busy or possibly run out of food when serving many more customers than they’re used to.

    It’s a good idea to have some food or snacks with you on eclipse day.
    Credits: Rachel Lense

  • Two children lay on a blanket, looking up, wearing eclipse glasses.

    Get Comfortable

    Remember to gather your solar viewing glasses or other solar filters to watch the eclipse safely, as well as sunscreen, chairs, blankets, jackets, hats, phones, cameras, and anything else you need to be comfortable and to enjoy the eclipse.

    Finally, get to your eclipse-watching site early, before the partial eclipse starts. You don’t want to be late and miss the exciting moment when the Moon takes its first “bite” out of the Sun!

    Bring a blanket, chairs, drinks, snacks, sunscreen, eclipse glasses, and anything else you need to be comfortable while watching the eclipse.
    Credits: NASA

During the Eclipse

What You'll Experience

  • The Sun against a black background. The top right area appears to be scooped out where it is blocked by the Moon, like a crescent.

    The Beginning

    Once the eclipse starts, the Moon will spend an hour or so gradually covering more and more of the Sun.

    During the early stages of the eclipse, the Moon will block only a portion of the Sun’s disk.
    Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • Shadows of the eclipse are seen on a sidewalk. The are like bright thin crescents scattered across the sidewalk.

    Look Around

    During these partial phases of the eclipse, create or use a pinhole projector to see images of the crescent Sun. If you are near any trees with leaves, look at the shadows cast by the leaves for small solar crescents. You can also use solar viewing glasses or other solar filters to view the Sun directly.

    Crescent suns are projected through tree leaves onto the ground during a solar eclipse on October 14, 2023.
    Credits: NASA/Abbey Interrante

  • A GIF showing a timelapse of people moving around during an eclipse during a bright day. It briefly gets much darker, then lighter again.

    About 15 Minutes Before Totality

    When the Moon is covering most of the Sun, watch for the ambient light to change and grow dimmer. The change will become more pronounced in the last 15 minutes before totality. The light may look eerie or strange. Even if it’s cloudy and you can’t see the Sun, the skies will still grow darker.

    The color of the sky and the natural light changes as totality nears, as seen in this timelapse video taken during a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
    Credits: Sarah Frazier

  • Against a blue sky, a small bird sits on a branch toward the top of a tree.

    About 10 Minutes Before Totality

    Begin to listen for changes in bird and insect sounds, or look for changes in their behavior. As the sunlight fades, wildlife might act as if nighttime is approaching.

    As the Sun becomes a thin crescent, shadows around you will become sharper. Look to see if you can spot more details in your own shadow.

    Birds, insects, or other animals might change their behavior just before totality.
    Credits: U.S. National Park Service

For Observers in the Path of Totality

  • A shadow slowly moves across a hilly landscape. The hills slowly get darker and darker as the eclipse moves closer.

    About 3 Minutes Before Totality

    If you are on a hill or atop a tall building, look to see if you can spot the Moon’s shadow approaching you across the landscape from the west a few minutes before totality. The sky will likely look darker in the west than in the east.

    In this sped-up video, recorded in Chile just before a total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019, the Moon’s shadow darkens the landscape to the west (left) as totality approaches.
    Credits: Vanessa Thomas

  • A hilly landscape. A man holds his hand in front of the camera. Shadows on his hand appear to move and shimmer.

    One to Two Minutes Before Totality

    Look for a phenomenon called shadow bands on white or light-colored surfaces. As light from the thin, crescent Sun gets bounced around by turbulent air in our atmosphere, it produces faint, rippling waves of light and dark that can be seen on light-colored surfaces. Look close for these shadow bands on the sides or tops of white cars, white walls, or on a large, white sheet, if you have one.

    By now, you will likely begin to hear people around you gasping or shouting as totality nears.

    This video, taken in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just before totality on Aug. 21, 2017, captures the Moon’s shadow darkening the landscape and shadow bands on the photographer’s outstretched hand.
    Credits: Rafi Sela

  • A close-up photograph of a solar eclipse, showing a bright cluster of orbs from the Sun on the lower left edge where sunlight peaks around the Moon.

    Seconds Before Totality

    With your solar viewing glasses or other solar filters still on, you’ll see the Moon almost completely cover the Sun, leaving a few bright spots of sunlight shining through valleys on the Moon (called Baily’s Beads) or one bright gleam of light on one side of the Moon, forming what looks like a diamond ring in the sky.

    Baily’s Beads appear just before and after totality when sunlight shines through valleys on the edge of the Moon.
    Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


  • Against a black background is a total solar eclipse. In the middle is a black circle – the Moon. Surrounding it are white streams of wispy light, streaming out into the sky.

    The Start of Totality

    Once the last glimmer of sunlight disappears and you can no longer see anything through your glasses or solar filter, it’s totality! Remove your eye protection and look at the eclipse. Chances are, people all around you will be cheering and shouting.

    Now you can see the Sun’s brilliant white corona, or outer atmosphere, shining all around the Moon’s black disk. Notice the shape of the corona and any long “streamers” extending across the darkened sky.

    The glowing white corona is a beautiful sight to behold when the Moon completely covers the Sun. Your eye might catch long “streamers,” or parts of the corona that extend farther away from the Sun across the darkened sky.
    Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

  • The eclipsed Sun, appearing as a black circle with a faint white glow. On the upper area, bright white and pink areas peak out from behind the Moon.


    Also look for pink features around the edge of the Moon. This pink color marks the middle part of the Sun’s atmosphere, the chromosphere. You might also see pink clouds of material, called solar prominences, stretching out from behind the Moon.

    Solar prominences appear as pink features rising from the edges of the eclipsed Sun during a total solar eclipse. Cameras can even capture them just before or after totality, as seen here.
    Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

  • A total solar eclipse is seen high in the sky against a sky that fades from dark blue, to light blue, to light orange and pink. Closer to the landscape a faint white dot is there – Venus.

    Planets and Sunset-Like Glow

    Farther away from the Sun and Moon, look to see if you can spot any bright planets or stars in the sky. You might even be able to spot the tail of a comet if there is one nearby!

    Now look at the horizon. You might notice a sunset-like glow in every direction you look – what eclipse enthusiasts call a 360-degree sunset.

    The planet Venus appears as a bright white dot in the sky to the lower left of the eclipsed Sun during a total solar eclipse in July 2019.
    Credits: Vanessa Thomas

  • The eclipsed Sun. In the upper right area of the eclipse, there is a bright flood of white light.

    End of Totality

    As totality ends, you’ll see bursts of sunlight appearing once again along the edge of the Sun. Put your eclipse glasses or other solar filters back on over your eyes and any telescopes, binoculars, or cameras.

    While they likely grew quiet while taking in the awe of totality, expect people around you to cheer and clap once again as sunlight begins to brighten up the sky.

    Look once again to see if you can spot shadow bands waving on white or light-colored surfaces. If you’re up high, look to see if you can see the Moon’s shadow race away from you toward the east.

    The diamond ring effect happens when a sliver of sunlight appears on the edge of the Moon, just before or after totality.
    Credits: NASA/Natchimuthuk Gopalswamy

Final Partial Phases

  • The shadow of a woman is seen on white concrete. She is holding her hands up, with her fingers crossed. Between the gaps in her fingers are the crescents of a partial solar eclipse

    Pinhole Projections

    As the sky grows brighter, notice the air temperature begin to rise.
    Crescent suns will reappear in the shadows of tree leaves or in pinhole projections.

    Crescent suns appear in pinhole projections during the partial phases of a solar eclipse.
    Credits: Sean Simmons

  • A person standing outside near a trailer, wears eclipse glasses and looks up at an uneclipsed Sun.

    End of the Eclipse

    After about an hour, the Moon will completely uncover the Sun, and all will return to normal once again.

    A person views the Sun using eclipse glasses.
    Credits: NASA

After the Eclipse

The Excitement Doesn't End

  • Sharing Your Photos

    You’ll likely be excited to share your experiences and photos (if you took any) with those around you. You might want to exchange contact information with other people you met so you can share photos or videos later on.

    Numerous cell phones and cameras are pointed toward the total solar eclipse at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on Aug. 21, 2017.
    Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

  • Avoiding Crowds

    Many people will leave soon after totality ends. If you want to avoid crowds and traffic, wait and enjoy the final partial phases of the eclipse until the eclipse is completely over. By the time the Moon has fully moved away from the Sun and the eclipse ends, the crowds might be much thinner.

  • Getting Home

    However, there might continue to be traffic jams on major roads and highways for a few hours. If possible, linger even longer at your current location. Enjoy dinner or conversations with others who experienced the eclipse with you, and perhaps even spend the night in the town or city where you watched the eclipse. If you need to journey home, traveling the day after the eclipse might be easier than immediately after the eclipse.

About the Author

Vanessa Thomas

Vanessa Thomas



Last Updated
Mar 06, 2024
Vanessa Thomas