The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in almost 100 years moved across the U.S. at 2,000 mph on Aug. 21. Here are some highlights. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

The day of the solar eclipse has, at last, arrived.

In the Washington area, we will see a partial solar eclipse, beginning at 1:17 p.m., peaking at 2:42 p.m., and ending at 4:01 p.m. At the peak, the moon will cover 81 percent of the sun.

With certified eclipse glasses, you can safely watch the moon progressively cover portions of the sun throughout the eclipse.

Do not look directly at the sun today without certified eclipse glasses. It could damage your eyes.

Unlike areas experiencing a total eclipse (along the narrow stripe running from Oregon to South Carolina), the sky will not suddenly darken in the Washington region and you may not notice anything during the partial eclipse if you’re not paying attention.


(Denise Lu/The Washington Post)

Even so, assuming it’s not cloudy, this eclipse will be cool and worth checking out with the proper viewing tools.

Here’s a short set of questions and answers to guide you through today’s partial solar eclipse in Washington:

I can’t find eclipse glasses. What do I do?

Eclipse glasses are scarce as most retailers have sold out. However, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (downtown) and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, Va.) should have some Monday morning. Glasses are also likely to be available at viewing events across the region (see related question at the bottom of this post).

If you’re unable to find glasses, you have a couple options:

  1. Find someone who has a pair and share.
  2. Try old school methods to view the eclipse, like making a cereal box viewer.

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

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.

What if it’s cloudy? What’s the latest weather forecast?

We’re expecting a mix of clouds and sun, which means viewing should be possible at times, while blocked at others. Check the Capital Weather Gang blog for forecast updates.

Is it safe for pets to be outside during the eclipse?

Your pets will be totally fine (indoors or outdoors) during any part of the partial solar eclipse. Your pets do not look at the sun on a normal day and will not do so because there is a eclipse. They will have no idea there is an eclipse.

Can I safely be outside without eclipse glasses?

Absolutely. The sun is no different today than any other day, except for the fact moon will briefly pass over part of it. The only unsafe behavior would be to look directly at the sun (without eclipse glasses) and that holds true any day of the year.

Can I watch the eclipse with my expensive sun glasses?

No. They will not block all of the sun’s light and you will risk damaging your eyes.

Capital Weather Gang's Angela Fritz explains what could happen to your eyes if you were to watch the Aug. 21 eclipse without special sunglasses and how to spot the ones that work. (Claritza Jimenez,Daron Taylor,Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)

Can I photograph the eclipse with my smartphone?

Yes, but a proper filter is recommended (more information from NASA here). Here are tips for smartphone eclipse photography: How to use your smartphone to photograph the solar eclipse.

How will the eclipse evolve in Washington?

Starting at 1:17 p.m., the moon will start to cover the sun, moving from right to left.

The moon will cover the biggest fraction of the sun, 81 percent, at the eclipse’s 2:42 p.m. peak — as shown in the image below.

After the peak, the amount of sun covered by the moon will start to diminish and, just after 4:01 p.m., the eclipse will be over as the moon will have moved off the solar disc.

Virginia visualization

(Larry Koehn/ShadowandSubstance.com)

Maryland visualization

(Larry Koehn/ShadowandSubstance.com)

How dark will it get?

“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 (up to a few degrees) as the eclipse approaches its peak.

What will the sun look like 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.


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

Will there be eclipse viewing parties in Washington?

Yes. Speaking of Science’s Sarah Kaplan writes:

… 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.

We have also become aware of these additional viewing parties:

Link: More eclipse coverage from The Washington Post

(An earlier, shorter version of this article was published on Aug. 10.)