The total eclipse of the sun of August 21, 2017 will be the most-observed solar eclipse to date. It will be the first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since 1979. For many people, the eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and you’ll want to plan ahead. If you’re within the path of totality on eclipse day, the only time you may look directly at the sun, without using eye protection, are the brief minutes of totality, when the moon will cover the sun completely. In those fleeting minutes, you’ll want to see the dramatic changes going on in the sky and in the landscape all around you. For example, during totality on August 21, 2017 – although it will be close to midday – you’ll easily be able to see 4 planets with the unaided eye near the eclipsed sun!
In order of brightness, these planets will be Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury. Mars is slightly brighter than Mercury, but so nearly the same in brightness that you probably won’t notice a difference.
About 15 to 30 minutes before totality, the planet Venus will gradually become clearly visible near the darkening sun. It’ll be to the west of the sun.
About 30 seconds before and after totality, two other planets will appear. Close to the west side of our star will be Mars, appearing as an orange “star.” At a similar apparent distance, on the east side of the sun, you’ll see planet Mercury. Jupiter – the second-brightest planet in Earth’s sky – will also be very easy to spot, as the bright planet will be located farther to the southeast of the eclipsed sun.
And it’s not just planets. Many bright stars will be visible near the eclipsed sun as well. After all, during a total solar eclipse, the sky turns dark. Just remember that the planets and stars will visible only briefly for those located in the path of the moon’s shadow.
You’ll surely see Sirius – our sky’s brightest star – to the southwest of the sun. It will be very bright, but not as bright as Venus.
Two more bright stars, yellow Arcturus to the east, and Capella to the northwest, will likely pop into view.
You might also be able to see Regulus, the brightest star of Leo’s constellation, very near the eclipsed sun. See the illustration at the top of this post.
*Don’t forget to purchase solar eclipse glasses well in advance, because shortages of those glasses and other solar filters will be inevitable. It is extremely important to understand that only solar eclipse glasses, and safe, approved solar filters must be used whenever view the sun directly, including during the partial phases of a total solar eclipse.
There’s plenty more to see during a solar eclipse, and the precious minutes of totality will happen fast. So educate yourself, and plan ahead.
For example, if you have binoculars or a telescope, it is safe to look (only during totality!) you might be lucky enough to see solar prominences! Check out the photo below.
Remember to take just a quick look at the planets, and return your attention to the eclipse itself! Also, if you plan to take pictures, try to use a tripod and make sure you spend more time on seeing the eclipse than photographing it. After the solar eclipse, there will be thousands of pictures of this great event, so it is better to store those amazing images on your brain’s memory instead of your SD card.
Totality will be over very fast, so make sure you live the experience!
Bottom line: The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse is the first visible from the contiguous United States since 1979. During the eclipse, four planets and many bright stars will be visible in the sky near the eclipsed sun.
Eddie Irizarry of the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean) has been a NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2004. He loves public outreach and has published multiple astronomy articles for EarthSky, as well as for newspapers in Puerto Rico. He has also offered dozens of conferences related to asteroids and comets at the Arecibo Observatory.