Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Great American Total Eclipse 2017: What You Need to Know


A total solar eclipse is one of nature's great wonders, and something we should all try to see. On August 21, 2017 there will be a total solar eclipse that can be seen across North America. All 50 U.S. states will be able to see a full or partial eclipse!  Why is this such a big deal? Well, besides the whole 50-state thing, the last total solar eclipse in this part of the world happened in 1979, and the next one won't be until 2024. There's a lot of information out there. The overriding theme will be Plan! Plan! Plan! Now, what do you need to know and what can you click to find the best information?

1.) How much will you see?


That depends on where in the U.S. you live. Even if you are not in the "path of totality," everyone will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. Up in Maine you'll see 50 percent and down in southern California you'll get 70 percent. And Canada...you'll get some too. There are interactive maps online like NASA's Total Solar Eclipse Interactive Map and Google's Solar Eclipse Map to help you figure out the details. And if you are in to GIS, you can even download maps and shapefiles through NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.
Image Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

2.) How long will it last?


Not long. Totality (a.k.a., complete coverage of the Sun) will only be 2 minutes and 40 seconds, depending on where you are. Of course, you do have the additional time when the dark shadow of the moon (the umbra) is moving across the Sun, before and after totality. Consult NASA's Total Solar Eclipse Interactive Map to find out exactly what your times will be.

3.) Where should you go to see it?


The hard-core eclipse chasers (an many other people) made hotel and campground reservations months ago. But that doesn't mean that you can't still walk out your door or drive a short distance to see something really great. Of course, weather is a big issue, can't see the eclipse if it is covered by a blanket of clouds. Where I live in North Carolina, the forecast is iffy on any particular day. But other parts of the country, particularly the western portions, have much better odds of good weather. Check Eclipsophile for "climate and weather for celestial events."

In general, plan for mobility and be flexible. Plan a couple of nearby places and be willing to hop in the car if conditions turn unfavorable beforehand. Also plan for traffic. This is a big event and millions (yes, millions!) of people will be out for it. You don't want to miss totality because you were stuck in your car on the highway. Check this Eclipse Web App for real time traffic data.

Still not sure where to go? Look for events near you. Museums, libraries, zoos, and so many more are planning events. That's my plan. Check NASA's Event Locations and the American Astronomical Society's (AAS) Events and Activities pages to find a place to go.

Don't want to leave your house? That's OK too! NASA Television is offering a special live program, “Eclipse Across America: Through the Eyes of NASA” with real-time coverage of the event from coast to coast. The nearly four-hour program will include images from numerous spacecraft, high-altitude aircraft and balloons, and ground observations. Additionally, the broadcast will include live coverage of activities in parks, libraries, stadiums, festivals and museums across the nation, and on social media. To watch the NASA TV eclipse broadcast online and access interactive web content and views of the eclipse from these assets, visit: NASA EclipseLive



4.) How do you keep from burning out your eyeballs?


Yes, this is a very real threat. You need to protect your eyes. Staring straight at the Sun, even if it is in partial eclipse, is not a wise decision if you want to keep your vision intact. And, no, dark sunglasses are not good enough. Luckily, there are few things you can do:
  • Eclipse Glasses - These are simple, cheap, special-purpose solar filters that you can wear. According to NASA, you need glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standard. These allow you to look at the un-eclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through them for as long as you wish. Make sure the filters in the glasses aren't scratched, punctured, or torn. Make sure to read the instructions on your glasses because some are printed with warnings stating that you shouldn't look through them for more than 3 minutes at a time and that you should discard them if they are more than 3 years old. Look through the AAS Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters and Viewers page before purchasing your glasses and some tips on what to look for and what to avoid.
via NASA's Eclipse 10
  • Pinhole Projection - This does not mean looking at the sun through a pinhole. It is an indirect way to view the eclipse that utilizes shadows. These methods have poor resolution and you won't be looking directly at the Sun, but these are by far the cheapest and easiest way to see it.
    • The Waffle Finger Method - Cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other, creating a waffle pattern. With your back to the Sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.
    • The Reflection Method - Use a small mirror to project an image of the Sun onto an adjacent shaded wall or more effectively projected through an open window into a darkened room. Be careful not to reflect light in to any eyes that may be in the room.
    •  Making a Pinhole Camera - This only requires some paper, aluminum foil, scissors, tape, and a paper clip! There are some great videos online as well as instructions on how to make your own pinhole camera.


5.) Can you take pictures?


Sure. But know that when pointed directly at the Sun, you can damage a variety of lenses. For binoculars, cameras, and telescopes, there are special filters that you can buy if you want to photograph the event (don't make your own). The AAS guide on shooting eclipse images and videos is great for the more advanced photographer. But a majority of us will probably want to use our phones. The best way to protect your lens is actually pretty simple: Use your eclipse glasses. Just don't look at the Sun when they are off your face and on your camera. Here are some great tips about how to do smartphone photography of the eclipse.

Some advise though...don't spend so much time taking pictures that you miss the enjoyment of seeing the eclipse yourself.

6.) How can you be a contribute and be citizen scientist?


So many ways! Find out how to collect data and be a citizen scientist at NASA's Citizen Explorers page. Google is putting together a unique project called the "Eclipse Megamove 2017" that will document the view of the eclipse across the entire path. To do this, they will gather images from other 1,000 volunteer photographers, amateur astronomers, and the general public across the eclipse path. Then, they stitch them together for a continuous view as it crosses the United States. 

7.) Where can you get even more information and news?


So many places! You've probably noticed all of the NASA content. They have tons of information all over their website, specifically their Eclipse 2017 page, as well as their Facebook page and What's Up for August 2017 tumblr. These are also fantastic: Great American Solar EclipseAAS Solar Eclipse Across America, and Space.com,  Also keep up-to-date by following the Eclipse 2017 Facebook page.


Did I miss anything? If so, leave a comment.

And remember, have fun!



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