How to view the solar eclipse: What you'll see, where and when
Posted August 19
Updated August 21
In central and eastern North Carolina
You’ve probably read about how dark it gets during a total eclipse. It won't get that dark in central and eastern North Carolina where only a partial eclipse will be visible. In and around the Triangle, about 92 percent of the sun will be blocked (obscuration). That number goes down as you move northeast. Roanoke Rapids will see about 90 percent obscuration while the northern most portions of the outer banks only about 85 percent.
For exact times for all of the contact events (C1-C4) and maximum eclipse, use NASA's interactive map. Unless otherwise noted, always protect your eyes with eclipse glasses or a pinhole viewer of some kind. Only during totality, when the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, is visible, should you look with your naked eye. Why? Any part of the photosphere, the bright disc of the sun, is about 10,000 times brighter than the corona.
About 60 minutes before totality, the moon makes first contact (C1) as it begins to cover the right side of the sun. You won't notice any anything at once on the ground; it is still very bright out. Over the next 40 minutes, the moon takes a greater bite, forming a crescent sun. Be sure to look a couple of times during this period.
In the path of totality
If you are in the path of totality, the experience will be much different. It will get dark enough to experience these events during the eclipse:
About 20 minutes before totality, look for stars and some planets to become visible. Venus will be the first to appear to the right and slightly above. Listen for changes in animal behavior. Birds may return to the trees, insects normally only out at night may become active, and listen to the crickets.
About 15 minutes before totality, the environment starts to take on a blue-gray tone. Look at your shadow on the ground. The changing light will make it look sharper, more well defined.
About 5 minutes before totality, look to the western horizon. It will grow dark, as if a huge quiet thunderstorm is looming. You may start feeling the temperature going down. This is very dependent on the weather where you are, but drops in temperature of 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit have been reported in past eclipses.
About 2 minutes before totality, 99 percent of the sun is blocked. Look down and lift your eclipse glasses to look for shadow bands (also known as shadow snakes). These ripples of light are cast by the approaching leading edge of the shadow through the turbulent atmosphere.
About 15 seconds before totality, the crescent sun merges down into a single radiant point of light. Even though just a small fraction of the sun is visible, it dominates the circular ring around the moon creating a diamond ring effect. Don't remove your glasses yet.
About 3 seconds before totality, look for Baily’s Beads. Appearing like a brilliant string of shimmering pearl, this is remaining light from the photosphere streaming through valleys along the eastern edge of the moon.
Watch as they disappear one by one. Totality has begun, and you can (and should) take your eclipse glasses off.
Look to the horizon for a 360-degree sunrise. You are standing in the umbral, or darkest part of the moon’s shadow. That glow is the penumbra or lighter part of the shadow where observers are still seeing a partial eclipse.
More stars and planets will appear. Jupiter is to the left and down, Mercury to its right, then the eclipsed sun followed by Mars and Venus. Note the line the planets are in along in the sky. This is the ecliptic, the plane each planet in the solar system follows as it orbits the sun. This is the same line the sun follows through the sky. Take a moment to note the angle of that line, this Earth’s axial tilt, the reason for our seasons, on display right before your eyes.
Look to the left potion of the chromosphere, the transition between the bright chromosphere and the dimmer but brilliant corona. Fiery loops of hot pink light may leap off the moon's surface. These are prominences, magnetic fields filled with very dense material.
The sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is on full display now. Appearing like a brilliant sunflower, the corona, Latin for crown, appears irregular in shape and size. While it may look more serene than the bright photosphere, the corona is about 1 million degrees. the photosphere we are used to seeing is less than 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Also look for helmet streamers, lines extending out and meeting to form helmet or petal shapes.
As the right edge of the moon begins to brighten, totality’s end is seconds away. Time to put your glasses back on.
If you missed anything, you will have another chance to look for it. Each of the steps above happens again in reverse as the moon moves away from the Sun.
If it is cloudy
Even if the eclipse is completely clouded out, Dr. Tony Phillips, editor of Spaceweather.com says, "Even a cloudy eclipse is off the scale." The clouds can act as a natural filter, even displaying the crescent sun like a movie screen in the right conditions. In the path of totality, the reduced air temperature is felt, animals still react and the scene takes on an even more "otherworldly" tone according to Philips.
You can also turn to WRAL on television, on your computer or in the WRAL News app for streaming video views from across the country. Even if it is cloudy where you are, it's bound to be clear somewhere.