Excitement builds for total solar ‘Great American Eclipse’ in August

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Millions of people in the United States will be in the perfect spot to witness a total solar eclipse later this summer.

The Moon will cross in front of the sun and cast a shadow on part of the US on August 21.

The greatest impacts of the eclipse will occur in the path of totality, where the Moon will completely block the sun for a few minutes.

Path of total solar eclipse on August 21. (Image: Michael Zeiler)

No part of Alabama lies in the path of totality.

The sun will be about 97 percent blocked in Huntsville for about two minutes around 1:30 p.m. on August 21, making this a partial solar eclipse for us.

Those hoping for the full experience need to head north. The closest big city to Huntsville in the path of totality is Nashville, Tennessee.

There is still a reason for excitement in north Alabama, even if travel is not an option.

Bill Cooke is with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office and saw the last total solar eclipse in the Pacific Northwest in 1979.

The event propelled him to study astronomy and the experience has stuck with him ever since.

"No one who experiences an eclipse will ever forget about it," he says.

Cooke has waited nearly 40 years for this year's eclipse and he says he is planning to take his whole team with him to Tennessee in August.

This eclipse is a great opportunity to get young people interested in and involved in science.

Cooke says it is "impossible" not to get excited about the upcoming eclipse.

The experience is something you will not get from a textbook. "You see successively larger bites taken out of the sun and it disappearing. And then the twilight and all the reaction of the animals," Cooke describes.

People in the path of totality will not be able to ignore the eclipse. "When you're in the path of totality, you're gonna be outside and the sun is going to disappear. That is something you can't ignore," Cooke says.

Safety should still be the number one priority. No one should stare at the sun without protective glasses.

This will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire contiguous U.S. since 1918.

The next total solar eclipse will be seen in the U.S. in 2024.