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Watch a total solar eclipse tonight at 8:38PM ET

Watch a total solar eclipse tonight at 8:38PM ET


It's the only way to see it if you're in the continental US

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A total solar eclipse can be seen from Earth today, blotting out the Sun over Southeast Asia and parts of the Pacific Ocean. The eclipse will first occur just west of Malaysia early local time on Wednesday morning, according to NASA. The sight will then become visible farther and farther northeast, eventually passing the International Date Line and into the previous day. The eclipse then wraps up just shy of the US West Coast on Tuesday afternoon local time.

The path of a total solar eclipse often occurs over water or unpopulated areas

Solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun. This causes the Moon to cast a shadow directly onto the Earth's surface, making it appear as if the Sun is disappearing. It's an event that happens about once a year, but it's rare to see an eclipse's totality. That's when the Sun's disc is completely covered and only the outer edges are visible. The total eclipse is only visible for people located on a narrow 100-mile wide path that runs across Earth's surface, according to NASA. This path often occurs over water or unpopulated areas, so catching a total eclipse can be difficult.

Most of tomorrow's eclipse will happen over water, too, so only a few populated areas will be able to see the total eclipse. Islands in Micronesia and Indonesia will have a good view of it, as well as the 163 passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 870. Hawaii and parts of Alaska will get a partial view, but mainland US will miss out on the show this time around, according to NASA.

Because of this, NASA scientists will be in Indonesia, using new technology to study the Sun's corona — the outer solar atmosphere that can be seen during totality. The corona is a million times fainter than the Sun, making it hard to see and study normally, according to the space agency. "It's like looking at this very dim light with a very bright light right next to it," said Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. But eclipses block out the intense light coming from the Sun, allowing researchers to study the fainter corona in more detail. "We can make artificial eclipses on the ground and in space, but nature does it so much better than we can do." NASA wants to learn more about the Sun's corona, as it can send out intense blasts of charged particles that mess up electronics here on Earth.

NASA will also be broadcasting the eclipse from Micronesia for those who aren't in an area to see the event. First, the space agency is hosting a Reddit AMA with experts from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center at 1PM ET on Tuesday. And then NASA TV will cover the eclipse itself starting at 8PM ET on Tuesday. Expect the total eclipse to occur between 8:38 and 8:42PM ET.

Scientists Nelson Reginald and Natchimuthuk Gopalswamy describe the experiment they will do during the 2016 eclipse in Indonesia:

Video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center