Are you ready for the solar eclipse?

Author: 
Dr. Patrick Treuthardt and Jerry Reynolds

On Aug. 21, 2017, people across the United States will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twilightcausing the temperature drop rapidly and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon. On that day, America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse.

Astrophysicist, Dr. Patrick Treuthardt, and Head of Outreach, Jerry Reynolds, from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, have put together some tips and information that will make your solar eclipse viewing experience unforgettable! 

Safety

  • As always, never look directly at the Sun without an approved solar filter such as "eclipse" glasses (aluminized mylar) or welder's glass rated 14 or higher. Even when 99% of the Sun is obscured, there is still a significant amount of energy emitted and it's enough to damage your eyes. Alternatively, you can punch a small hole in a card and project an image of the Sun onto another surface. This is perfectly safe, except for maybe the hole punching.
  • If you travel to the path of totality, it is safe to look at the Sun without protection ONLY during the total phase. You must use protection before and after this short phase. A useful phone app to help you determine when this phase occurs is Solar Eclipse Timer by Foxwood Astronomy.

Logistical Preparations

  • Buy your eclipse glasses now.
  • If possible, try to get to a place well within the 70 mile wide path of totality.  The closer to the center line, the better.  Try to stay within the 2 minute, 30 second zone if possible.   This may be your only reasonable chance to see a total solar eclipse and it is worth the effort to see it in person. A useful, interactive map can be found here: https://goo.gl/UJKEf. A nice place to try viewing totality is Old Santee Canal Park in SC (http://www.oldsanteecanalpark.org/). If you can’t make it to an area of totality, viewing the partial eclipse is pretty cool too! Raleigh will see approximately 92% coverage of the Sun at maximum. You can also watch a live feed of a total eclipse from remote locations and then experience your partial eclipse firsthand (https://goo.gl/wG3ZE1).
  • Arrive the day before as close to your planned viewing location as you can. You may still find some motel vacancies an hour or two from the path of totality.
  • Get to your viewing location as early as you can on the morning of the eclipse.  Traffic is projected to be very heavy along the East Coast surrounding the path of totality (https://goo.gl/2to22Z).
  • Cell phones may not work well on eclipse day due to heavy use in the area.  Have paper maps for your destination.
  • Keep your gas tank as full as possible in case there are spot gas shortages in eclipse areas.
  • Pack food and water in case you get stranded in traffic.
  • Expect traffic jams leaving eclipse areas too.

Things to look for in the path of totality 

  • Shadow bands:  look at light colored (i.e. white) surfaces for rapidly wriggling dark "snakes" within 2 minutes of totality. This effect is similar to refracted sunlight seen at the bottom of the pool (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_XMnU7Ad40).
  • Baily's Beads: during the last seconds before totality, sunlight passes through the rugged terrain of the Moon. The irregularities due to craters, highlands, etc., cause a beaded light effect (https://goo.gl/eSw1bF).
  • The "diamond ring":  when the last Bead is visible, the Moon is silhouetted and creates the impression of a shining diamond ring. 
  • Totality:  this is the time when you are standing in the full shadow of the Moon. During this short period, it is safe to look directly at the eclipse without eye protection. You should be able to see the solar corona. It will look like diffuse streamers coming from the eclipsed Sun. The thin, deep red chromosphere will also be visible during this time, though you may need binoculars to see it (use binoculars ONLY when the Sun is completely blocked by the Moon). With luck, solar prominences may also be visible. These will look like loops or flames. We are approaching a minimum of solar activity, so they may not be visible.
  • Stars and planets:  during totality, you will be able to see stars and planets. Very close to the eclipsed Sun will be the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Mars (bright) and Mercury (dim) will also be near the Sun. Tracing the Mars-Sun-Mercury line in one direction will take you to Jupiter (brighter) and following the line in the opposite direction will take you to Venus (brightest).