Eclipse tips from a veteran eclipse watcher
Some readers know that Peter Deegan (our editor-in-chief) is an eclipse chaser. The USA eclipse next Monday will be his tenth Total Eclipse of the Sun. Here’s his tips and links for anyone heading for the totality zone and for people who can’t make it.
A total eclipse of the Sun is definitely worth seeing. Photos don’t do it justice at all. Each one is an amazing and memorable sight. In 2002, I saw my first eclipse in outback Australia. From the moment it ended, I was planning to see the next one. A partial eclipse, even 99%, isn’t much compared to a full total eclipse.
There’s plenty of eclipse advice on the web for the 2017 event. Alas, a lot is from people who’ve never seen an eclipse and are working from second hand info or pure guesswork.
NASA has a good Eclipse 2017 site. We tip our hat to Fred Espenak who did wonderfully accurate eclipse calculations when he worked at NASA. Fred worked out the time and place for every lunar eclipse over 5,000 years!
Xavier Jubier has an excellent eclipse map overlaid on Google Maps. Click on a point to see the details for that location. The times are UTC, convert to your local time.
Be well inside the totality zone, not necessarily on the center (blue) line but definitely not near the edge (red lines). The edges of the totality zone are an estimate only, you should be at least a few miles inside the ‘edge’ shown on a map. The closer to the center line, the more totality time you’ll get. For example, Kansas City is just on the edge of the totality area, you’ll get a better view by heading north / north east closer to the center line.
There’s no ‘special’ spot in the totality area. Any place with a clear view of the sky is enough. You’ll enjoy the whole thing more with friends or just other eclipse watchers.
The crowds and traffic are likely to be very heavy on eclipse day. Start out early. It’s better to be in place well before the eclipse starts than stuck in traffic.
Watch the weather and avoid anywhere with cloud cover. Ideally you can move to avoid patches of cloud, but that might be difficult because of the traffic.
Local resources like shops etc. are likely to be busy or overwhelmed. Bring your own food, drink, gas and even toilet paper!. It’ll save queuing and general frustration.
The partial eclipses before and after totality MUST only be viewed with proper protection. You’ll damage your eyes badly using sunglasses or other makeshift efforts. Special eclipse glasses or viewers are best and even them, make sure they aren’t damaged with even a tiny hole in the surface.
For totality itself, you can take off the eclipse glasses (you won’t see anything if you keep them on). Organized groups usually have someone who calls ‘2nd contact’ or ‘Glasses off’ at totality and ‘3rd contact’ or ‘Glasses on’ when it ends.
There’s plenty of eclipse apps out there, many have been made to cash in on the 2017 craze.
I like Eclipse Droid for Android devices. It has many features for camera automation etc but the basics are useful for anyone. It will show you the timings for your location and even speak a countdown to totality. There’s also a ‘simulation’ mode to show a diagram of what you’ll see from a certain location.
I’ve never used an iPhone during an eclipse, so I can’t recommend any app personally. In general, look for an app that’s been around for a few years and has good reviews.
The best advice, especially for eclipse novices, is to forget the camera and enjoy the total eclipse.
It’s hard to photograph a total eclipse of the sun. The high contrast and limited time make it difficult even for experienced photographers. Try photographing the partial eclipse (before and after totality) which is easier and there’s plenty of time.
Can’t make it?
If you can’t see the eclipse in person or it’s cloudy, there are alternatives. Anything other than seeing an eclipse live and in person is a very poor second choice – but it’s better than nothing.
NASA is streaming live on various sites Facebook, Periscope, NASA TV and their NASA YouTube channel.
If that’s not enough, download NASA apps for iPhone and Android to see the eclipse on a phone or tablet.
A unique viewpoint is from above the clouds, The Eclipse Ballooning Project, will send 57 cameras up on weather balloons to observe the eclipse at high altitude. I’ve seen this done for previous eclipses but this time you can watch live eclipse.stream.live, and on NASA TV.