Everything you need to know about the great American eclipse of 2017

Americans from coast to coast will have the opportunity to see one of the most spectacular celestial sights on the face of the Earth this summer when a total solar eclipse sweeps across the United States for the first time in decades.

The total solar eclipse occurs when the moon, sun and Earth are perfectly aligned to allow the moon to cast a shadow on the Earth's surface. This year, that tiny shadow will pass across a long and thin path of U.S. soil stretching from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21, 2017.

Residents in all states will have the opportunity to see at least a partial eclipse, but only those in certain parts of a handful of states will be able to see "totality" -- the perfect moment in which the sun's light is fully blocked, allowing star gazers to stare directly at the moon and see an almost heavenly halo.

Those lucky enough to have seen a solar eclipse boast about how amazing it can be, describing the moment of totality as both eerie and magical. The temperature will drop briefly and the skies will darken, allowing other stars to become visible while the sun's rays shoot out of the sides of the pure black ball in the sky.

The lucky states where totality will be visible include Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia -- and tiny parts of two others. Anyone outside of these areas will need to pick up some protective eyewear in advance in order to be able to stare up at the sun and see the "bite" the moon takes out of it during the eclipse.

Click through to see the specific areas where the total eclipse will be visible:

The last time a total eclipse was visible on U.S. soil was on February 26, 1979, when a shadow passed across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming and up into Canada.

Prior to that, a total eclipse was visible along the East Coast in 1970.

It's been nearly a century since a total solar eclipse was visible across such a significant swatch of the country. On June 8, 1918, and a similar eclipse swept across the country from Washington State to Florida.

But you won't have to wait decades to see another one if you can't make the one this August. The next eclipse in the U.S. will stretch from Texas to Ohio on April 8, 2024.

And for those willing to travel outside the country, the opportunities to see an eclipse come more frequently. If you can't make this year's, you can catch the next one in 2019 in Chile and Argentina.

RELATED: Check out the last total solar eclipse of 2016 that hit Asia