photo credit: Sunset Beach Eclipse May 20th 2012 by jimnista via VisualHunt.com, used per provisions of CC Attribution License 2.0.
The much-hyped total solar eclipse--the first visible from the continental United States since the early 1900s--is quickly approaching. Whether you're in the path of totality on August 21st for this rare event or not, you will still be able to see a partial eclipse. But what is the best/safest way to view this phenomenon? What do you need to do to prepare? I've got four ways for you to be prepped for this exceptional occurrence.
1) Whether partial or total eclipse, you still need special glasses
Even though essentially the entire U.S. will be able to see at least some of the eclipse, only a small band of the country will be able to experience the full thing. And if you want a hotel in that small area, you're almost out of luck. If you're not sure whether you're in that band, check the map below:
Whether you'll be gazing at a full or partial eclipse, you'll still need special glasses, according to NASA. The only time of the eclipse that it's actually safe to look at the sun without glasses is during what's called the "phase of totality," when the moon completely covers the sun. During this period, only the corona, or outer atmosphere of the sun, is visible. Alex Young of the Goddard Space Center explains, “If you’re wearing your eclipse glasses and it becomes so dark you can’t see anything, you know it’s safe and it’s time to take them off."
So while viewers of the total eclipse will not need their glasses for the entire duration of the eclipse, everyone will need a pair at some point during the event. Cheap, non-certified solar glasses are a dime-a-dozen, so make sure you're getting a pair that won't melt your eyeballs out when August 21st comes around. This article from the National Weather Service recommends four brands: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.
And, if you're looking for some other cool gear to sport during the eclipse, be sure to check out this awesome t-shirt I featured a few weeks ago.
2) Pick a good location
There are actually a few considerations when selecting a spot from which to observe the eclipse. First, should you choose an open space or a shady place? It may seem obvious, but Fred Espenak, a former NASA astrophysicist who has seen 27 eclipses in his lifetime, says viewing the eclipse near trees offers a surprising experience as well:
"When the sun is about halfway or 3/4 of the way covered, if you have a shade tree around and you look at the sunlight filtering down through the leaves of the shade tree and look down on the ground, you will see crescents on the ground, 'cause the leaves act like pinhole cameras."
A shady area may also provide a getaway from the crowds, who are likely to gather in open areas.
You should also think about the weather in the area you plan to be in at the time of the eclipse. Clouds are definitely one of the most likely obstructions to a clear view of the event. The National Weather Service has compiled a list of places that are historically more likely to have clear skies at this time of year. It's also advisable to keep an eye on the weather forecasts in your area for the 21st. A 30+ minute drive out of your hometown might be worth it for this rare phenomenon if your area is expected to be cloudy.
3) Get your camera ready
Of course, we'll all want a memento of this once-in-a-lifetime event, and what better way to do that than with a picture? Here's the best way to capture the solar eclipse, according to camera maker Nikon:
1) Get a solar filter. Just like your eyes need a little protection, your camera needs a filter if you're going to capture the best shot. Nikon recommends full-aperture filters for your camera, since it covers the entire front of the camera and uses the entire lens. Further, you won't need to refocus after you take the filter off during the totality phase (when the moon has completely covered the sun).
2) Get your settings right. Sorry novice photogs--auto mode will not suffice here if you want to get a really professional-looking shot of the eclipse. Nikon has a long list of setting recommendations based on your specific camera and what you want to capture on their website. Go ahead and write down what settings work best for you so you aren't fumbling around when the eclipse arrives.
3) Be ready for the phase of totality. If you're in that band of lucky U.S. residents who will be watching the total eclipse, be sure you have your camera at the ready for that fleeting two minutes of total darkness. Nikon says you'll need to choose an aperture and capture the phase of totality over a range of shutter speeds. They recommend you use Mr. Eclipse's handy dandy exposure chart for getting the right aperture and shutter speeds during different phases of the eclipse.
4) You can easily contribute to science while enjoying the eclipse
In case you were unaware, NASA and other organizations are conducting several scientific studies during the eclipse, and you can join in on it with just some simple apps and your observation skills. Here are three apps that will let you become a scientist for the day.
1) Become a meteorologist with the GLOBE Observer app. NASA wants to know how the temperature and cloud cover is affected during the eclipse, and with the GLOBE Observer app, you can contribute to the project! You don't need to be in the path of totality to be eligible. To participate, just download the app. On the day of the eclipse, every 15-30 minutes for two hours before and after the eclipse, record your observations of cloud cover. It's that easy! If you're somewhat more enterprising, you can place a thermometer in a shady area. Record the measurements every ten minutes for two hours before and after the eclipse, and every five minutes for thirty minutes before and after.
2) Make a movie with the Eclipse Megamovie app. A bonus for photographers *in the path of totality*--the Eclipse Megamovie project is seeking photos of the eclipse from across North America, which they will use to create a sort of crowdsourced film of the phenomenon's path. The pics will also be used so that scientists can study certain aspects of the sun and its corona. To participate, get the Eclipse Megamovie app, which will give you tips on how to take the best photo of the eclipse using either a DSLR or a smartphone. You can get some practice beforehand with "Practice Mode." Then, on the 21st, just whip out your phone and use the app to snap some pics of the eclipse like a pro.
3) Channel your inner naturalist with iNaturalist's "Life Responds." The behavior of animals when the lights suddenly go out has always been of particular interest to scientists, and by observing plants and animals during the eclipse, you can help scientists understand natural behavior better. All you have to do is download the iNaturalist app, join the "Life Responds" project, and specify which plants or animals you'll be watching on the 21st. Then, simply snap a picture of each thing a half an hour before, during, and half an hour after the eclipse. Be sure to record anything you see and hear in the notes as well.
Comment below: What are you doing to get ready for the eclipse? How/where will you be viewing it?
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!