GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE: FIRST TIME VIEWERS


 

EQUIPMENT:

  • Solar filters of some sort, which may include eclipse glasses, a #14 welding filter, mirror covered in paper with a dime-sized hole to reflect sunlight on to the wall.  Please don’t use sunglasses, X-Ray film, black and white film, or smoked glass.  None of it is safe.
  • Sunscreen:  remember, 99% of the event will be spent in sunlight.
  • Binoculars, only to be used during totality, and absolutely MUST not be used for any other part of the eclipse unless they have adequate solar filters. This includes ALL binoculars, even 8 x 20.  Binoculars are more dangerous if one so much as glances at the Sun, for they concentrate sunlight.
  • White sheet to put on the ground to look for shadow bands near totality.  Don’t get too hung up on having one.
  • A colander or something with many small holes.  A hat with a mesh is fine.
  • Thermometer to watch temperature changes is useful.
  • A video camera that about 5 minutes prior to totality you can set pointing to the west, where the shadow will come from, and start it and not worry about until about 3 or 4 minutes after totality.  That way, you can film the darkness without taking precious time away from totality.

CONTACTS

  • First:  Moon just touches Sun and you won’t see any of the Sun eclipsed for a few minutes.
  • Second: beginning of totality
  • Third: end of totality
  • Fourth: Moon just touches Sun and eclipse is over.

Between First and Second Contacts:

  • Watch the Moon slowly cover the Sun.
  • Notice that the temperature starts to fall before you notice any change in light.
  • When the Sun is about half covered, notice the slight “yellowish” cast of the light.  It’s different.
  • After the Sun is more than half covered, use a colander or hat to cast crescents on a surface, as each hole becomes a pinhole camera.  Check to make sure you are positioned where you want to be for totality.
  • IMG_2880.jpg

    Crescents made by the mesh of a deck chair, 9 March 2016 eclipse in Makassar Strait.

  • Periodically look to the western sky, because from there is where the Moon’s shadow is coming.  You are looking for some darkening.  You won’t see anything until a few minutes before totality.
  • Notice Venus to the right or west of the Sun.  It will become very easy to see.
  • Look to see if any animal nocturnal behavior is occurring, such as birds coming to roost or cattle acting like it is evening.

Last 5-10 minutes before totality—things start happening fast:

  • Sun shrinks to a crescent, and the crescent starts breaking apart into fragments to eventually become a single point of light, the Diamond Ring.  This is where you may remove all filters, because the light quickly fades.
  • A minute or two before totality, look at your shadow to see every individual hair.
  • As totality approaches, steal quick looks at the west, as the shadow approaches as a giant black curtain. Watching the shadow is good, but the Diamond Ring is something you want to see for sure.  I can look quickly at both, but I’ve had a lot more practice.  See the Diamond Ring.
  • Don’t forget to look at the ground or a wall for shadow bands.  If you don’t see anything don’t keep trying.  There is too much else to look at.

TOTALITY  (Take the eclipse glasses off, if you didn’t do it at the Diamond Ring)

IMG_2881.jpg

9 March 2016 Total solar eclipse over the Makassar Strait, Indonesia.

  • I begin by staring at the eclipse for 15-20 seconds, to fix it in my mind, for no second spent looking at the eclipse is wasted. I start talking aloud about the corona, how many solar diameters out from the Sun it is and where. I look at how dark it is and comment compared to twilight.  If you do nothing more than look at the eclipsed Sun, you will have done well.
  • What the Moon covers last is the lavender chromosphere, the inner atmosphere of the Sun.  I look for it, because it’s there and the color is beautiful.
  • Look for prominences on the surface of the Sun.  They will be small red dots on the edge of the Sun that get covered by the Moon on one side and exposed more on the other.
  • I do a 360 degree turn looking at the horizon all around me, to see reds everywhere.
  • I look for planets.  Venus has been seen; Mercury will be to the left and below the Sun; Mars on the opposite side. The star Regulus will be to the left of or east of the Sun. I want to see Regulus, but if time is passing quickly. I won’t look for other bright stars other than maybe steal a quick peek at the zenith.
  • I look at the eclipsed Sun and see if the prominences have changed.  The Moon is moving, so there will be a change.

Near the end of totality, get ready for the Diamond Ring.  There will be a slight increase in light and then suddenly there will be brightness, as the Sun is no longer completely covered.  See it, and before you put eclipse glasses on, while others are celebrating the end of the eclipse, watch the Moon’s shadow as a huge black cloud move off to the east.  Virtually nobody discusses this great phenomenon, and there are only about two or three seconds to see it.

IMGA0014.JPG

Libyan eclipse of 29 March 2006, after Third Contact.

 

Between Third and Fourth Contacts

Look for shadow bands again, notice the crescents on the ground and on you.  Watch everything happen in reverse as the Moon slowly uncovers the Sun.  The lighting changes, the temperature rises, animals revert to normal behavior, and soon it is difficult to know that anything happened.

I consider it honoring the event by staying until Fourth Contact, when the eclipse is over.

IMG_6350.JPG

And for us it is never completely over until we see the Moon as a crescent in the evening sky.  Notice that this is south of the equator and not the view that will be seen the evening of August 22 or more like August 23, since summertime evening crescents are difficult to see until 2 or more days after new.

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