In 2018, skywatchers in a few select locations on Earth will have three opportunities to see a solar eclipse, a celestial event in which the moon briefly takes a bite out of the sun.
A solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon appears to cross in front of the disk of the sun. A total solar eclipse — like the one taking place on Aug. 21, 2017 — occurs when the disk of the moon blocks 100 percent of the solar disk. A partial eclipse occurs when the moon covers only part of the sun.
Only partial eclipses will occur in 2018. The first solar eclipse of 2018 will take place on Feb. 15. But it will be visible only from parts of Antarctica, the Atlantic Ocean and southern South America. The second partial eclipse of 2018 will take place on July 13, and will be visible primarily over the ocean between Australia and Antarctica. The third solar eclipse of the year will take place on Aug. 11 and will swing over the North Pole. It will be visible from northern Europe, northern Asia and parts of eastern Asia. [Solar Eclipses: An Observer's Guide (Infographic)]
You can see a complete list of upcoming solar eclipses at NASA's website, which provides information about solar eclipses, including detailed maps of each eclipse path.
The partial solar eclipse of Feb. 15, 2018, will begin over Antarctica and the surrounding ocean. It will move up and over South America, including Argentina and Chile, with some visibility as far north as Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. This animation shows the eclipse's full path.
The partial solar eclipse of July 13, 2018, will take place almost entirely over open water. Because the eclipse will arrive during the Southern Hemisphere's winter, most of Antarctica will be experiencing "polar nights." During these periods, the sun does not rise for days, weeks or months at a time. But the partial solar eclipse will briefly pass over the illuminated edge of the continent that lies just south of Australia. Skywatchers on the very southern costs of Australia and New Zealand might catch brief views ofthe eclipse.
The Aug. 11, 2018, partial solar eclipse will touch many countries in the Northern Hemisphere. This animation shows the path of the moon's shadow. The eclipse will start out over the North Atlantic Ocean and Greenland, moving north and east so that the shadow simultaneously moves toward Iceland, northern Europe and the northern polar regions. Continuing its path over the top of the planet, the shadow will be wide enough to cover most of northern Russia from east to west. It will then dip down into Mongolia, China and surrounding areas.
Other kinds of solar eclipses
In addition to total and partial solar eclipses, skywatchers may want to try to see an annular eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes over the center of the sun's face, but a sliver of the sun's disc remains visible. That sliver creates a bright ring around the moon, which is why an annular eclipse is also known as a "ring of fire" eclipse. The next annular eclipse will occur on Dec. 26, 2019, and will be visible in Saudi Arabia, India, Sumatra and Borneo.
No total solar eclipses will take place in 2018. After the total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, the next total solar eclipse will take place on July 2, 2019, and will be visible in the South Pacific, Chile and Argentina.
Both annular and total eclipses occur on average every 18 months.
How to view the sun safely
WARNING: Looking directly at the sun, even during an annular eclipse, can lead to blindness and other forms of permanent eye damage if you aren't wearing proper eye protection.
To safely observe the sun or watch an eclipse, you'll need special protective eyewear or eclipse glasses. Basic sunglasses, even those with UV protection, will not sufficiently protect your eyes. If you're planning on documenting the eclipse with any photo equipment, there are special solar filters you can add to make sure the remaining ring of sunlight doesn't take a toll on your vision.
The safest way to observe an eclipse is indirectly, using a pinhole camera that can be made easily at home.
If you must document one of these events, a simple, wide-angle snap should capture the moment, even if you're using your smartphone camera.