Solar eclipse countdown

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A total solar eclipse is coming up next month.

I am really, really thrilled. Here's why.

During a solar eclipse, the moon maneuvers between Earth and the sun, throwing a band of shadow, the umbra, onto Earth's surface. For the lucky folks in the direct path of the eclipse - the path of totality - it's sure to be an awe-inspiring and otherworldly event. The sun will appear as a black disk and it'll be dark enough to see the stars.

An hour and 40 minutes is all it takes for the eclipse to cross the country, starting near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and ending near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, according to NASA. Total darkness will last only a few minutes from any place in the path of totality, which will cross Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas before finishing up on the East Coast.

Here in New Mexico, we won't be within the path of totality. From our vantage point, it'll be a partial solar eclipse, meaning we won't get the full show of stars and darkness.

On a global scale, a total solar eclipse occurs every 12 to 18 months. Partial solar eclipses are more common. For someone turning 12 this year, there will likely be 60 more total solar eclipses in their lifetime. For someone turning 50, there will likely be another 33 to check out. (The Washington Post has a really fun calculator for this.)

The Aug. 21 eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the sun and moon by some measures. An eclipse crossing the lower 48 states from coast to coast hasn't happened since 1918, according to NASA. The last time the United States saw a solar eclipse at all was 1979 (some of you remember that). The next time we'll see one is 2024.

You might think astronomers could be a little blasé about solar eclipses, but that's not the case. Eclipses give scientists the opportunity to observe the outer atmosphere of the sun, the corona.

If you're planning on watching the eclipse in its path of totality, you'll be able to look up in the moments of the total eclipse. But if you'll be watching it from Northern New Mexico, don't stare into the eclipse, as the sun's blinding rays will still be shining down. You can make a pinhole camera or buy special eclipse glasses to watch it safely.

Visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov for more science, citizen scientist opportunities and planning tips.

And whether you're traveling to see the eclipse or watching it right here from Taos, send us your pictures, videos and observations for publication in the Aug. 24 edition - email chooks@taosnews.com by Aug. 22.

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