On Aug. 21, for the first time in almost 40 years, a solar eclipse will be visible across the continental United States, and on that day, staffers at Southwest Public Libraries plan to catch a glimpse of history.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon orbits between the Earth and sun, completely hiding Earth's view of the sun and creating a beautiful image. The sky becomes dark, and the sun's faint outer atmosphere becomes visible around the black image of the moon, creating a halo-like effect.

Since this upcoming eclipse will only be visible in the United States, some people have started calling it the "All-American Eclipse."

While the total eclipse will only be visible from a relatively narrow, 70-mile wide track from Oregon to South Carolina, at Southwest Public Libraries, we expect to be able to see about 80 percent of the eclipse.

We have some fun activities planned to be a part of this historic and awe-inspiring event.

Through the Space Science Institute's National Center for Interactive Learning's Science-Technology Activities and Resources Library Education Network and a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Southwest Public Libraries is one of 4,800 libraries across the country to receive a portion of more than 2 million eclipse glasses. Staring at the sun, which will still be visible during a partial eclipse, can be harmful, and these special glasses will protect viewers.

When we get closer to the eclipse date, you can pick up a pair of eclipse glasses at the library, but please note supplies are limited, and glasses will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

At Westland Area Library, stop by the Youth Services Desk in the week leading up to the eclipse, Aug. 14-21, to pick up a pair of the glasses as well as some additional educational materials about the eclipse.

At Grove City Library, patrons will receive the glasses for a special Youth Services program from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 21. In addition to watching the eclipse as it passes by, we will read stories, hear songs and make some eclipse crafts, including sun filters using paper towel rolls.

Those who miss this eclipse will have to wait a little while for the next one. The average time that passes for any specific spot on Earth to see a total solar eclipse is 375 years. Fortunately, scientists predict the next eclipse to pass over the United States will arrive on April 8, 2024.

Mark Dubovec is communications manager for Southwest Public Libraries. Contact him at mdubovec@swpl.org.