Tips for total solar eclipse: Where and when to watch, and how to use those glasses

NASA's mapping of the eclipse provides precise path of totality

NASA data visualizer Ernie Wright explains how he accounted for the jagged surface of the moon and the varying elevation in the U.S. to precisely map the path of totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.
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NASA data visualizer Ernie Wright explains how he accounted for the jagged surface of the moon and the varying elevation in the U.S. to precisely map the path of totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

No need to feel bad if, as Monday’s total solar eclipse approaches, you’re still a bit unsure what to do, where to go and how to use those funky solar glasses once the moon starts creeping across the face of the sun.

Here are five totally helpful tips and reminders to help you view the phenomenon, the first total solar eclipse to cross the breadth of the continental United States in 99 years.

When will the total eclipse occur?

A few minutes after 1 p.m. in the Kansas City area, people will see the moon totally cover the face of the sun. Exact times will differ by a few seconds based on location.

The moon’s shadow will be literally speeding across the country, with a partial eclipse beginning in Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Pacific time (11:05 a.m. in Kansas City). The first total solar eclipse will occur in Oregon at 10:15 a.m. (12:15 p.m. in Kansas City), and the shadow will race east and depart the continental U.S. through South Carolina at 2:48 Eastern time (1:48 p.m. in Kansas City).

Online eclipse maps offer more precise total eclipse times. For example: The total eclipse is set to occur in Atchison, Kan., at 1:06:13 p.m. Seconds are added the farther you go along the path of totality. In St. Joseph, the total eclipse is set to happen at 1:06:26 p.m. In Weston, it’s at 1:06:55 p.m.; Lansing, 1:07:34 p.m; Liberty at 1:08:03 p.m.; Kansas City’s Berkley Riverfront Park, 1:08:28 p.m.; and Grain Valley at 1:09:10 p.m.

In other words, you definitely should be looking up a few minutes after 1 p.m.

The eclipse’s 70-mile wide path of totality means there’s no need to wade into a crush of humanity to view historic celestial event.

Where do I have to be to see the total eclipse?

As long as you are viewing from anywhere inside the path of totality — the 70-mile-wide shadow that the moon will cast on the Earth — you will see a total eclipse.

You do not have to be in any of the major cities holding viewing parties. The eclipse will look just the same from a rural road or farm or from your backyard, deck or sidewalk.

If you are viewing from outside the path, you will see a partial eclipse, which is also significant, although true eclipse aficionados argue that a partial eclipse is not at all equivalent to the total experience.

Much of Kansas City south of the Missouri River is outside the path of totality or on its far southern edge, meaning people viewing from there will see an eclipse that obscures about 99 percent of the sun. Many other cities, including Raytown and Lee’s Summit, are outside the path of totality, as is Johnson County.

How long will totality last, meaning the time the moon fully eclipses the sun?

At most, the sun will be totally blacked out for about 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

Two important notes:

First, the entire eclipse process is actually quite long. It will take nearly three hours for the moon to slowly edge its way over the face of the sun, cover it in totality, and then slowly slip away to once again reveal the sun. So viewers will actually have a long time to watch the entire phenomenon unfold and go from start to finish.

Second, where you stand will determine the length of the total eclipse you see. The closer you are to the middle or so-called center line of the path, the longer the total eclipse will last. The farther you get from the center of the path, the shorter the total eclipse you will see.

Cities that will see a total eclipse of two minutes or more include Atchison, Excelsior Springs, Liberty, Platte City, St. Joseph, Smithville and Weston.

One minute or more, but less than two: Gladstone, Leavenworth, Independence, Parkville and Lansing, Kan.

How and when do I use the solar glasses?

It’s simple. You use the glasses for as long as the sun’s rays can be seen. Looking up at that sun’s blazing light can damage your eyes. So use the glasses for the entire time the moon is slowly slipping over the face of the sun.

But once the moon fully covers the sun — meaning at the moment of total eclipse — you take the glasses off. In fact, you have to. If you don’t, you likely won’t see a thing. Then, once the moon starts edging away and the sun comes out again, that’s when you put your glasses back on.

What if I’m away from the path of totality or stuck indoors? Can I still see the eclipse?

Yes. Remember, only viewers inside the path of totality will get a view of the total eclipse. But everyone in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, will get some degree of partial eclipse, from 99.9 percent in parts of the Kansas City area, to 86 percent in Chicago, to about 57 percent in San Diego and Rockport, Maine.

If you’re stuck inside, NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse using images captured by 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft and more than 50 high-altitude balloons. It may not be the same as seeing it from outdoors, but viewers can log in at www.nasa.gov/eclipselive.

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler