We are in for a rare celestial treat this Monday — here, and all across North America — as a solar eclipse is expected to occur, where the moon will, over the course of about three hours, pass between the sun and the earth and block all or part of the sun (depending on your vantage point).

According to NASA, the last time the continental U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979. While some parts of the country will get to witness the full total eclipse, here in Southern Maryland we’ll be able to witness a partial, but still roughly 80 percent, eclipse, based on NASA’s eclipse visibility map. Scientists say the longest period when the moon will completely block the sun from any point in its path will be about two minutes and 40 seconds.

To get an idea of when to expect to see the peak of the eclipse in our area, scientists expect the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., region should start to see the first shadows of the moon stretching across the sun shortly after 1:15 p.m. Aug. 21, with the maximum eclipse happening around 2:42 p.m. The entire event should be over around 4 p.m.

A word of caution, however: While an eclipse this rare is sure to dazzle and draw the eyes of both young and old, the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons warns viewers not to look directly at the sun. Doing so during most phases of a solar eclipse can permanently impair your vision, according to a press release from the society.

“The only time it is safe to look directly at the sun is when it is completely covered by the moon during the totality phase of an eclipse,” the release states. Sunglasses, no matter how dark, are not efficient enough protection, and specialized filter glasses are recommended. The Calvert Library branches will be hosting eclipse viewing parties, where just such filter glasses will be available. We encourage all those who plan to watch the solar event to attend these parties or pick up a pair of this protective eyewear.

The Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons also offers some safety tips for watching the eclipse: “Carefully look at your solar filter or eclipse glasses before using them. If you see any scratches or damage, do not use them. Never look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other similar devices. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the solar filter and your eyes.”

The group recommends talking with an expert astronomer if anyone wishes to use a special solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars or other viewing device.

We want everyone to have the chance to witness this unique and, perhaps for some, once-in-a-lifetime solar spectacle. But we want you to do so without inflicting any retinal damage in the process. For more information about how to view the eclipse, check out the American Academy of Ophthalmology website at www.aao.org.

Happy, safe viewing, Southern Maryland.

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