If you're in Indonesia right now, you won't want to miss this.
On Wednesday morning (or Tuesday night if, like me, you're on the East Coast of the United States), the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, projecting a 90-mile-wide total solar eclipse over portions of the Pacific.
NASA has animated the path the eclipse will take in the video below (it looks like a space giant is aiming a laser over the surface of the Earth). The areas covered by the bull's-eye — which will traverse several Indonesian islands — will see the full eclipse. People in the countries in the larger circles will catch a partial show.
For those not currently on one of these Pacific islands, the best way to watch the eclipse is on the live stream below. Coverage starts at 8 pm ET, with the total eclipse peaking around 8:40 pm.
Can the eclipse be seen anywhere in the United States?
Hawaiians will be able to see a partial eclipse from around 4:33 to 6:33 pm local time, peaking around 5:37 pm. Alaskans might be able to see a partial eclipse around 5:40 pm through sunset, but Alaska Dispatch News reports it may be too cloudy to catch a glimpse. A few lucky folks aboard an Alaska Airlines flight to Hawaii this evening will get to watch the show, too, as the airline adjusts its flight path to fly directly into the full shadow.
If you are one of those lucky ones, glance, but don't stare. It's a really, really bad idea to stare straight at the sun, even when the moon is covering most of it. The intensity of light radiating from a partial or whole eclipse can still cause retinal damage. "Even when 99% of the Sun's surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn, even though illumination levels are comparable to twilight," NASA explains.
The eclipse is more than just a stunning show. It's a rare chance for scientists to study the sun.
For those in the bull's-eye, the total eclipse will last for around four minutes. Though fleeting, those four minutes will yield rich photos and data.
With the moon occluding most of the sun's brightness, NASA scientists can observe the sun's corona, or atmosphere, in greater detail. It's crucial for the space agency to understand the corona: It creates the space weather — solar wind and electromagnetic radiation — that could potentially interfere with (or destroy) our communications satellites.
When there isn't a solar eclipse, scientists use a special telescope called a coronagraph to block light and study the corona. But this technique can only be used to look at the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere. An eclipse gives scientists an opportunity to look at the inner corona and make better inferences about the surface of the sun.
NASA has sent a team of scientists to Indonesia to snap some images of this eclipse. "The images taken ... will allow us to measure the temperature and the wind speed" of the corona, Nelson Reginald, a NASA research scientist, explains in this video below. There's little room for error: The team will just have three minutes to capture 59 images, NASA reports.
In the past, solar eclipses have been used to test Einstein's theory of general relativity. Photographs of eclipses have proved that light from distant stars actually bends around the sun's gravity.
When's the next time a solar eclipse will hit North America?
If you're in North America and you're jealous, know that in a year and a half we'll be able to see a total solar eclipse of our own. On August 21, 2017, a full solar shadow will pass over the US from the Northwest to the Southeast (Canada and Mexico will see a partial eclipse).
If you miss that one, be assured there will (likely) be a few more chances to see a total solar eclipse in the next few decades.
The map below traces the path of all the total solar eclipses to occur on this continent until 2050. NASA also has an almanac of all the solar eclipses that will occur until the year 3000, if you (or your descendants) want to plan to catch every last one.