Watching a total solar eclipse has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I circled the dates of North American Eclipses when I was still in grade school. When I was an undergraduate, I read Annie Dillard’s essay, “Total Eclipse,” in a creative nonfiction course, and the essay made me long for the experience even more. In graduate school, my fellow astronomy-loving bestie and I frequently postulated on how to make plans to watch the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse together. And now, finally, the day is almost upon us.
The Great North American Total Solar Eclipse will occur on Monday, August 21st, 2017. Contrary to what you may have heard, as long as you live in North America you will be able to experience the eclipse. Use this nifty tool for an idea ad of what you will be able to experience that day depending on your zip code. Make plans to go outside during the peak–even if it is overcast or rainy, you will notice a distinct difference in temperature and ambient light even if you aren’t in the path of total.
Please keep in mind that you must use proper eye protection to look at the sun during the eclipse event. Be prepared and get your viewing glasses now. (Here’s a list of reputable vendors!) If you aren’t able to find correctly-rated glasses in time (be careful! there are some scams!), you can make a pinhole camera. If you do not use a pinhole camera or wear correctly-rated viewing glasses, you will sustain permanent eye damage.
In 2013, I stupidly tried to look at the sun during a hybrid solar eclipse. I wasn’t able to find glasses in time (I didn’t realize the Science Center right around the corner from where I worked was selling them), but my brother, my then-boyfriend (now-husband), and I all drove out to the beach at dawn to see if we could catch a glimpse of the spectacle. We knew we could sometimes look at the sun right as it was on the horizon, and we hoped we’d be able to see the crescent of the moon blocking out the sun before both celestial objects rose too high in the sky for us to gaze safely. Unfortunately there was a cloud bank that morning, and by the time the sun peeked over the clouds, the rays were much too bright for viewing. We squinted and tried even the darkest, most polarized sunglasses among us–and still, nothing. We gave up, not wanting to risk it any further.
Don’t be like us. Get your damn glasses.
If you are lucky enough to live in the path of totality (or will visit the path), the only time you will be able to safely look at the sun without eye protection is during totality. Right before the moon is completely in front of the sun, a phenomenon called “the diamond ring” will occur, and that’s your signal to take off the glasses. During totality, you’ll be able to observe the sun’s corona. When “the diamond ring” reappears, that’s your signal to put the glasses back on.
I made my reservations for viewing about a year ago. If you try to make reservations in any city within the path, you’re probably out of luck. Most places are booked–and have been for several months. If you’re determined to see it, you may need to get a hotel out of the path and drive in. You might need to picnic in your car. There will probably be a ton of traffic. Plan accordingly.
If you’re bummed about missing totality for this eclipse, make plans to catch the many upcoming eclipses in your lifetime. There will be another one in North America in just a few years!
What are your plans for watching the Eclipse?