The moon passes in front of the sun during the height of a partial solar eclipse in Vacaville, Calif., in 2014. (Joel Rosenbaum/AP)

The Aug. 21 solar eclipse is coming, everyone in the Lower 48 will be able to see it, and the hype is building. But how awesome your viewing experience is will depend on whether you are treated to a total solar eclipse or a partial solar eclipse.

In the Washington area, we will see a partial solar eclipse and, at peak, a light shadow of the moon will cover 81 percent of the sun.

What this means is that our experience will be partly awesome. It will be cool and worth checking out, but not a mind-blowing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment. For the totally awesome, unforgettable experience, you must travel to the path of totality, a narrow stripe running from Oregon to South Carolina. And it’s going to cost you.


(Denise Lu/The Washington Post)

Assuming you haven’t already booked your travel into the path of totality, don’t want to spend the money or simply don’t want to deal with hordes of people converging there, here’s a short set of questions and answers to guide you through what you’ll be able to see in Washington:

When does the eclipse in Washington begin, peak and end?

On Aug. 21, a light shadow of the moon will start to cover the sun just after 1:17 p.m. and will peak just after 2:42 p.m. at 81 percent coverage. Then, the amount of sun covered will start to diminish and, just after 4:01 p.m., it will be over.

Virginia visualization

(Larry Koehn/ShadowandSubstance.com)

Maryland visualization

(Larry Koehn/ShadowandSubstance.com)

Will it turn dark in the Washington area?

“If you are really paying attention, it will be a bit darker, but not much more than a cloud passing over the sun,” says NASA scientist Michael Kirk. The massive difference between areas witnessing a partial and total solar eclipse is that the shadow passing over partial eclipse areas, known as the penumbra, is much lighter. Over the path of totality, a much darker shadow passes over, known as the umbra, and it turns almost as dark as night.

Will the temperature change?

You may notice a slight drop in temperature as the eclipse approaches its peak.

How will the sun appear in Washington as the eclipse is underway?

The sun will appear like a cookie with an expanding piece bitten out of it until the eclipse’s peak. Then, the sun (or cookie) will return to form.

Do not stare at the sun with your naked eyes during the eclipse. It will damage them. Wear approved solar eclipse glasses.


Andrew McCarty and his daughter Zoe McCarty, 11, right, look at a projected image of the sun during a solar eclipse viewing party at the High Point Branch of the Seattle Public Library on Oct. 23, 2014. (Joshua Trujillo/AP)

What if it’s cloudy?

You won’t see anything, unfortunately, but you could still watch a live stream of the total solar eclipse from NASA. Check the Capital Weather Gang for regular updates on the cloud forecast.

Will there be eclipse viewing parties in Washington?

Yes. Speaking of Science’s Sarah Kaplan writes:

If you’re here in Washington on Aug. 21, head to the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian will have solar telescopes set up for viewing the event. You can also snag a pair of eclipse-viewing glasses at the museum, or learn to build a pinhole camera that will let you safely observe the sun. Eclipse enthusiasts can also head to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly for similar programming.

Is this safe to watch with my kids?

Absolutely, and we encourage it, as long as everyone is equipped with approved eclipse viewing glasses. It will be a fantastic science lesson in real time.

Please read Angela Fritz’s perspective on this: Parents: The solar eclipse is nothing to fear. Here’s how to watch it with your kids.

Link: More eclipse coverage from The Washington Post