Solar Eclipse 2017 – Tips and Fun Facts

So a little while back I wrote a post asking for help figuring out how to record the solar eclipse. I got some pretty great responses, including from Twitter where I was provided this wonderful resource.

Since then, I’ve talked to a lot of people about the eclipse, and everyone says the same thing – don’t bother trying to record it. Just go and experience it. So I’ve decided to back off on the photo and video side of things and focus more on enjoying this crazy astronomical event.

But of course, I’m not writing just to tell you that. I also have some great tips and facts to share with you about solar eclipses! About a month ago, I went to a talk given by Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer), and he shared all kinds of cool info that I want to pass along to you.

Tips for Watching the Solar Eclipse

  1. Get to your viewing location early – especially if you’re going into the zone of totality! Traffic is going to be chaotic all across the country. (I’ll be in Oregon!)
  2. Take food and water. You know, in case you get stuck in that traffic.
  3. Don’t look at the Sun directly! Make sure you have eclipse glasses for the event. You can take them off during the period of totality, but it’s not safe to look at the Sun with the naked eye at any other point during the event.
  4. Set a timer. Figure out how long totality will be at your location and set a timer to remind you to put your glasses back on before it’s over. Make the timer 10-15 seconds shorter than the time of totality just to be safe.
  5. Don’t bend or scratch your eclipse glasses! They stop protecting your eyes if they’re damaged.


Fun Facts about Solar Eclipses

  • During an eclipse, we witness what is known as syzygy – an alignment of three celestial objects, such as the Sun, the Earth, and either the Moon or a planet. When you think on such a huge scale about astronomical bodies, achieving syzygy within a solar system is pretty impressive.
  • Depending on where you are during the eclipse, you may see different shadows being cast by the moon
    • Penumbra – a nearly complete shadow. This partial shadow comes from a partial eclipse. You’d see this outside the zone of totality during a total eclipse.
    • Antumbra – during an annular eclipse, the ring of that’s left around the moon when centered in front of the Sun. The moon is further away from Earth and can’t cover the Sun completely.
    • Umbra – complete shadow. The moon is at the perfect point between Earth and the Sun to block it completely. You’d witness the umbra in the zone of totality.
  • The Sun’s corona is only visible during totality. Get this – the corona is the Sun’s atmosphere! All the gases surrounding the Sun and kept close by its massive gravitational pull make up an invisible atmosphere around the star that is usually invisible to the naked eye. I had never thought about the corona as the atmosphere before, and it’s sort of mind blowing.
  • Both the total eclipse coming up and the next one a few years later share the same city as their point of longest totality – Carbondale! Look, I’ve been to Carbondale. An eclipse may be the only good reason to go, and this crazy coincidence will put that town on the map for sure.

Getting your eclipse types confused? I’ll let @AstroKatie spell it out for you.

Anyway, I hope all this makes you want to go and see the solar eclipse for yourself, and if you can you definitely should! Concerned about what you might be missing? I think this quote sums it up pretty nicely.

The difference between reading about a total solar eclipse and seeing a total solar eclipse is like the difference between reading about kissing… and actually kissing.

— Phil Plait, 2017

What a genius.

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