On Aug. 21, the moon will cross in front of the sun, casting a shadow along a path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, pitching those in that narrow band of totality into darkness for 2 ½ minutes while the solar corona blazes in wispy glory around the blackened disk of Earth's only satellite.
"You are going to see the sun go from a nice, yellow ball down to a pretty thin crescent," said Skip Bird, outreach director with the Westminster Astronomical Society.
The key thing about that thin crescent sun, and the fully covered sun in the path of totality for that matter — you can't look at it with your naked eyes. A proper filter, eclipse glasses or other viewing technique is necessary to protect your eyes from serious damage.
That's why Bird is presenting on the eclipse in a free Tuesday event at the Mount Airy branch of the Carroll County Public Library.
"It's going to be a program with a little bit of safety, a little bit of history, why the eclipse is unique," he said. "If it is nice outside, we will also have my telescope with a solar filter on it so we can look at the sun."
Bird will also be handing out eclipse glasses, not unlike the paper specs you might receive to view a 3-D movie, but with special filters — like that used on his telescope — to make viewing the eclipse safe.
There will also be demonstrations on how to make eclipse art projects, cardboard eclipse viewers — perfect, Bird said, for children too young to safely use eclipse glasses — and "lots of things that that families can do on the day of the eclipse."
Bird's solar eclipse presentation will begin at 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, but on the day of the eclipse itself, he will be on the path of totality in Lincoln, Nebraska, and he advises anyone who can make it to a point along that path do so. NASA provides a variety of maps online at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-maps.
For those who simply cannot make a trip to the path of totality, the 80 percent coverage to be seen from Carroll County is still worth checking out, Bird said. If he can find members of the Westminster Astronomical Society who are also sticking around, there may be eclipse viewing parties announced on the club website at www.westminsterastro.org.
All the Carroll County Public Library branches will be open for at least eclipse viewing, and may include some impromptu talks on the event, according to library Director of Community Engagement Dorothy Stoltz.
"We encourage people to stop in on Aug. 21 from noon to 3 p.m. to pick up a pair of [eclipse] glasses and — weather permitting — join librarians in viewing this wonderful event," she said.
The eclipse glasses will be available while supplies last, but Stoltz hopes interest in astronomy and geosciences will persist long after the day of the eclipse.
"We hope to tap the excitement of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse and encourage people of all ages to wade through library books and other resources on astronomy," Stoltz said.