Total solar eclipse 2017: 6 bizarre things that will happen

Things get a little weird during an eclipse. Here are six things to look for.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
4 min read
David McNew, Getty Images
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While there are many superstitions about eclipses, there are also a lot of weird things that happen during an eclipse that are completely real -- and super cool. Here are six incredible things to look for during the eclipse on August 21.

1. Animals getting confused

"A totally eclipsed sun is 10,000 times fainter than one that is 99 percent covered by the moon," Meg Pickett, professor of physics at Lawrence University, told me. The change in light during an eclipse makes the temperature drop suddenly, which makes animals think that night is coming.

As the total eclipse begins, animals begin their evening songs and behavior. As the eclipse ends, the animals think that morning is coming.

"Animals and insects that only come out at dusk or night start appearing. So you better bring your mosquito repellent," said Edward Belbruno of the department of astrophysical sciences at Princeton. "The mosquitos think it's feeding time. Likewise for bats. They can start coming out to look for food. Some animals just become agitated, as squirrels may become. You may also hear the chirping of crickets or cicadas who think it is night." 

How eclipses happen.


2. Stars and planets in the middle of the day

During the eclipse, the sky will get so dark that stars will look just as bright as they would during the evening. If you live close to the total eclipse zone, you'll even be able to see planets like Jupiter and Venus easily.

3. Shadow bands

Right before a total eclipse, little snake-like shadows will appear to slither across the ground. According to NASA, scientists aren't completely sure why shadow bands happen. Many scientists believe that they are caused by light from the eclipse being focused and refocused through cells of air in the atmosphere. 

Shadow bands are a rare sight during the eclipse, but you may be able to see them with the right equipment, timing and location. The most important part is the color of the ground. You can see the bands best on light colors. Some people lay a large white sheet on the ground. You may also spot them by looking at concrete, sand, snow or ice.

"In 2015, I saw the eclipse in Svalbard, just 800 miles from the North Pole," said Mark Bender, a longtime eclipse chaser who has followed eclipses from Norway to Australia, and the director of the documentary series "Eclipse Across America." "I was standing on a landscape covered with ice -- just like an enormous white sheet. And there they were! It's all about being at the right place at the right time."

4. Bailey's beads

Bailey's beads are pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon, explained Pickett. You'll see them around the edges of the moon as it passes over the sun. 

"The beads may look reddish in color, exposing the upper atmosphere of the sun, the chromosphere, or 'Sphere of Color,'" said Pickett. 


Bailey's beads are pearls of sunlight around the eclipse. 

NASA/Arne Danielson

5. Corona rainbows

Corona rainbows happens when the air is full of water molecules. "During the eclipse in 1999, I was watching in Cornwall, England," said Bender. "It was a completely overcast and rainy day. Leading up to the eclipse, you couldn't see the sun at all. Three minutes before totality, the sun started to peek though, and with one minute to go, clouds dissipated and the entire sky opened up. We lucked out, but the best was yet to come. 

"Even though the rain had stopped, there was still so much water vapor in the air. When the sun eclipsed, the corona was full of tiny rainbows! Imagine seeing the stunning corona in full color! I have never seen that since, but anything is possible. You just don't know how it will play out."


Rainbows around an eclipse are caused by light shining through water vapor.

NASA/Romeo Durscher

6. 360-degree sunset

During totality, or when the sun is completely covered by the moon, you can see what looks like a sunset -- in every direction -- around the horizon. 

When he was 15 in July 1963, NASA researcher and Dickinson College Professor of physics and astronomy Robert Boyle witnessed his first solar eclipse in Bangor, Maine. "When totality arrived, I was amazed at how dark it got," Boyle said. "The silence that descended around us was as profound as it was unexpected. The birds stopped chirping. The air grew still. And all around the horizon where the clouds left a little gap of sky, there was a crimson band of light as if sunset was a 360-degree phenomenon." 

The strange 360-sunset effect happens, Boyle says, because the sun is still shining outside the path of totality.

Update: This article was first published on August 16 and has been updated with additional quotes.

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