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Here’s What You Should Look For When The Sky Goes Dark On Aug. 21

Hint: This isn’t your typical August night sky.

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Graphicaartis / Getty Images

A 1922 star map of the constellations Leo, Virgo, Hydra, Libra, Sextans, Leo Minor, and Boötes, printed and published by W. & A.K. Johnston of Edinburgh.

The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is going to offer a rare and wacky opportunity to check out stars you normally can’t see in the US in late summer.

While a partial eclipse will be visible for all to see in North America, those gathered along the path of totality — a 70-mile-wide strip stretching diagonally across the entirety of the continental US — will get to experience the moon fully blocking out the sun.

That’s where the sky will go dark for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds, depending on your location. The main event will be the blacked-out sun surrounded by its glowing corona, the outer atmosphere usually obscured by the sun’s bright light.

But there will be surprising views across the rest of the sky, too. The stars normally made invisible by the sun during the day will blink into view — and what you see will be very different from what you can usually observe when staring up at the sky during the summer. That’s because as the earth fully rotates on its axis every day, the stars directly above the US are shifting too.

Only the brightest stars will likely be visible, according to Irwin Horowitz, an astronomy instructor at the College of Western Idaho. “Even in totality, it’s sort of like a deep twilight at best,” Horowitz told BuzzFeed News. “So you’ll see the bright stars, but you won’t be seeing full constellations in most cases.”

These starry views won’t be totally new. They are the ones that mainly show up on spring and winter nights, when the earth is in a different position in space along its orbit around the sun. Several planets in our solar system will also be visible.

Here are BuzzFeed News’ top six recommendations for stargazing during the total eclipse:

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1. Leo

Leo, representing a lion in the sky, is one of the so-called zodiac constellations, meaning it falls along the path of the sun during parts of the year. It is best visible in the sky in April. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, and possibly others, will be visible to the east of the darkened sun.

2. Orion

Named after a hunter from Greek mythology, Orion is one of the most recognizable constellations. The brightest stars in Orion will appear to the west of the sun during the total eclipse for the western and central US. However, the constellation will dip below the horizon by the time the total eclipse is visible on the East Coast. Orion is normally best seen at night in January.

3. Ursa Major

The constellation of the bear, Ursa Major is large and includes the grouping of bright stars best known as the Big Dipper. It is best viewed in April, but visible all year long. It will hang in the sky to the northeast of the eclipsed sun.

4. Canis Major

Canis Major, or the “greater dog,” is a constellation best seen in the February night sky. Its brightest star, Sirius, and possibly others, will appear to the west of the eclipsed sun near the Orion constellation for the west and central US. This constellation will dip below the horizon by the time the total eclipse is visible on the East Coast.

5. Gemini

Gemini is one of the zodiac constellations, and is best seen in February. It represents a pair of twins, Castor and Pollux, from Greek mythology. It will appear to the west of the eclipsed sun.

6. Four whole planets!

Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter will all be visible during the eclipse, depending on your location. Venus will be the brightest, appearing west of the sun minutes before totality. “Venus will be an absolute slam dunk,” Horowitz said. Mars, also west of the sun, will have a reddish or orange hue and appear faintly in the sky. Mercury, which is rarely visible because it is so close to the sun and often gets blocked out by its light, will be east of the sun. Jupiter will be far east of the sun, visible only to those in the central and eastern US.

Zahra Hirji is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco

Contact Zahra Hirji at zahra.hirji@buzzfeed.com.

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