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Why a total solar eclipse is such a big deal

Eclipses, explained in 5 minutes.

Joss Fong is a founding member of the Vox video team and a producer focused on science and tech. She holds a master's degree in science, health, and environmental reporting from NYU.

On August 21, the continental United States will see its first total solar eclipse in 38 years. The shadow of the moon will cross the country, touching land in Oregon and leaving from South Carolina, providing an opportunity for what may be an unprecedented number of people to witness this extraordinary natural phenomenon.

Total solar eclipses are a big deal not because of how infrequent they are — there’s a total solar eclipse every 18 months on average — but because of how little of the Earth’s surface falls in the path of any given eclipse shadow.

Total and annular eclipses through 2020.
Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC

The next total solar eclipse to visit the US will be in 2024. If an eclipse happens to come to your town, you’re lucky. Any given location will see a total solar eclipse only once in more than 300 years, on average. The vast majority of us will have to travel to an eclipse path if we want to see a total eclipse in our lifetimes.

Book your hotel in Cleveland for April 2024.
Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC

You’re going to hear a lot about the great American eclipse in coming weeks, even if you don’t live in the US (sorry). To understand why this event causes such a splash, check out the video above or on our YouTube channel.

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