Experience the 2017 Eclipse.
I follow many astronomers and astronomy writers through podcasts and social media, so I've known about the upcoming eclipse on August 21st for years. A little over a year ago a list of locations and events was released, and we right away signed up to camp for the weekend at a location in the path of totality. We are super excited, and in the last week all media is covering the up coming eclipse. In preparation for the trip, we've learned so many things when it comes to eclipse watching, and I want to share some of those things here.
Safe watching is the top priority. You ARE looking at the sun after all. We bought solar glasses and camera filters around the same time as booking our camping spot a year ago in anticipation that supply will be scarce due to demand as the date approaches. Not everyone planned that far ahead. The big issue about trying to buy solar glasses now is that many are counterfeit and don't meet safety standards. There are lists of reputable solar vendors available, however the phoney glasses look almost the same as the real deal, and it's hard to reliably test whether they meet safety standards or not. Unless you know you bought solar glasses from someplace on the list, if you got them in the last month, be very suspicious.
Not to worry! There are other ways to take in the eclipse without glasses. As Canada will only experience a partial eclipse, these alternates are just as good of an option.
The easiest is to make a pin-hole projector. This how-to page, that includes video demonstrations, shows ways to customize it to make it more fun by doing a pattern of dots. I've seen different versions in other places where the “screen” has a picture drawn on it so that the eclipse projection becomes part of the artwork. I like the pin-hole projector because it's cheap, very easy, and to view you have your back to the sun, so it's super safe for little kids.
I saw a demo for making a sun funnel. I have an old telescope that I got as a kid that I rarely use, and figured this would be a good use for it. A cheap funnel from Canadian Tire, an old t-shirt and elastic band, and I put this together in about 15 minutes. It took me longer to figure out which ocular to use, as it has been many years since I used a telescope. The 15 mm lens produced the smallest image so that the entire sun appears in the image. I did some testing by just holding up a white sheet of paper without the funnel to make sure it would work before attaching the funnel. Attaching the funnel makes sure no one accidentally puts their eye to the eyepiece.
Even though we have solar glasses, we'll use the solar funnel as well. We will be taking photos and video, and in practice run throughs, trying to switch between looking at the sun with glasses and at the cameras without was challenging. With the sun funnel we can glance over and view the progress as we make adjustments. Also anyone around that doesn't have glasses, or doesn't want to use glasses, can also see the eclipse progress.
If you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, you can look directly at the moon and sun during totality with no safety gear. This is best done in a crowd with people that are experienced eclipse viewers. The other things to look for are shadow bands just before or after totality. This is the moon's shadow coming across the earth. We are bringing a white bed sheet to help see the shadows. Look around at the horizon during totality, it will be a 360deg sun set appearance.
Look for planets and stars during totality! Mercury, Mars and Venus are all up during the day right now. Venus is very bright and may even be visible during partial phases, it's located over head, so shade yourself from the sun and look up to see if you can spot Venus during the day!
Other science to do that doesn't involve solar glasses is having a thermometer to record the temperature, and a stake with a ribbon attached to record wind speed/direction. Also watch for reactions from animals. I read about an experience the astrophysicist Katie Mack had of a total eclipse in cloudy weather. During totality all the birds went crazy, so even though she couldn't view the eclipse directly, there was plenty to still see and experience.
If eclipse excitement has gotten to you and you've just decided to drive down to totality but haven't made previous plans, you have a bit of a challenge ahead of you! You likely won't be able to get accommodations at this point. However, don't think that you will just drive down early Monday morning, you aren't the only one thinking this! I've heard so many stories of people being caught in many hour long traffic jams. In Oregon they state patrols say they will not allow anyone to stop along highways on Monday morning, I suspect most states will be this way, so you need to find a destination. You'll want to drive down on Sunday and be prepared to sleep in your car. Where we are going, the Oregon Solarfest in Madras, offers parking for Sunday night.
If you can't find something similar and going to cross-country it, make sure you have excellent maps with you (download off-line maps for your phone/gps). I found this great article on things you'll need for eclipse day. Thinking that it would list other suggestions for observing, it lists basics like toilet paper, bug spray, water and gas. The more we've read about eclipse chasers, the more we realize we need to be self-sufficient, even though we are camping at an organized event. The small town of Madras with a population of 5000 people is expecting upwards of 150,000 people this weekend. We'll be camping in one of 5500 camp spots that each can accommodate up to 8 people. We're bringing bikes to get around and enough food and water for everyone for the weekend. Even if there is enough supplies at the festival the line-ups are going to be long (we just hope there will be enough bathrooms! We've seen eclipse chasers give instructions for do-it yourself portable toilets, that's dedication!)
If you want to do photography of the eclipse (assuming you have the correct filters), we recommend the Solar Eclipse Timer app. Even if you aren't taking pictures, this app will tell you whether you are in the path of totality, how long totality will be, and then has verbal prompts for what to look for at different stages. Created by an obviously passionate eclipse watcher, he has several demo videos with advice for viewing/photographing/videoing of the eclipse.
There is so much great advice out there. If you want to see what we find out, you can follow us on Twitter, where I will share anything that is relevant and interesting. I'll make sure to share some of the images we get afterwards too.
So on Monday August 21st, 2017 you find yourself ready for the eclipse, hopefully with a group of people to share the experience, either in the path of totality or not. After safety, the next most import thing to do is ENJOY THE ECLIPSE! If you have solar glasses, share them with others. Don't stress out about trying to catch the moment with a camera, sit back and enjoy the show. I've only ever experienced partial eclipses, and found them enjoyable. Anyone that has talked about seeing a total solar eclipse describes it as indescribable, it's something that has to be experienced.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience.