On Aug. 21, 2017, Americans will have the rare opportunity to see one of nature’s most fabulous displays. That day, the moon will slide into just the right spot to completely obscure the sun from the Earth’s surface—the first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since 1979. But you can only see the full cosmic light show from the eclipse’s “path of totality,” a route that curves gently from Oregon, south of Portland, through the Midwest, before finally passing beyond the nation’s borders outside South Carolina.
If you’re in the right place, you’ll see the light around you change as the moon slowly glides between Earth and the sun. The day will become dim and strange, and animals may start bedding down for the “night.” At the height of the event, the sun’s light will diminish to a few beads shining beyond the moon’s shadow—then comes the solar corona, a startling image of the sun’s light bending around the moon. If you were lucky enough to be in the path of totality, it looks like this:
First Things First: Solar Eclipse Safety
A total solar eclipse is a lot of things; beautiful, mysterious, even life-changing for some. But the event can also be dangerous. Solar radiation can damage your retinas, potentially causing blindness. It isn’t safe to look at any portion of the eclipse—except for the brief moment of totality—without the right equipment. As you plan your eclipse experience, start by collecting all the safety gear you’ll need to witness this stunning event without putting your eyesight at risk. NASA recommends taking the following precautions:
Never look at the partially-eclipsed sun with unfiltered optics, including cameras, binoculars, and telescopes.
Eclipse glasses do not count as filters for your optical viewing equipment. Don’t put on your eclipse glasses and then look through binoculars. Only a proper solar filter that attaches to the front of your telescope or camera lens can allow you to use these devices safely.
Cover your eyes with solar filters before looking at the emerging eclipse; don’t take glasses off until you’ve looked away.
Make sure you’re within the path of totality before viewing the total eclipse without solar filters. (More on that in a moment.)
Check the American Astronomical Society’s list of Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers before purchasing eclipse glasses or other protective devices.
Note how often eye protection comes up in NASA’s safety rules. Here are a few products that can allow you and your family to safely experience this once-in-a-generation event without the risk:
You know your friends; someone is going to forget to bring their eclipse glasses. Why not pack extra with this 10-pack of eclipse glasses from American Paper Optics?
These light and easy-to-use protective glasses comply with ISO 12312-2 standards, and, like every item on this list, the manufacturer appears on the AAS list of reputable vendors. This pack of 10 includes a random assortment of colors and designs, making it easy to remember whose glasses are whose—a must for family viewing with small children.
Get yours here.
These sturdy cardboard eclipse glasses block 100 percent of the sun’s harmful UV and infrared radiation, while allowing users a clear view of the spectacle in the sky. They comply with ISO 12312-2 and the scratch-resistant lenses will stand up to a bit of abuse.
These five pairs of glasses are decorated with images of the eclipse. One size fits most. Pick yours up here.
Planning the Total Solar Eclipse Experience
So you have your eye protection, and you’ve taken off work on August 21 (along with everyone else). What’s the next step in planning an unforgettable experience of this natural marvel?
Start by picking the perfect spot to experience the eclipse. There are plenty of communities along the path of totality, but the bulk of the route passes through rural and wilderness areas. Maybe a camping trip is in order!
Plan for traffic. A lot of it. The path of totality is only 60 to 70 miles wide, and a lot of Americans are going to cram into that space. Experts recommend traveling at least a day ahead of time to beat the crowds.
Don’t plan to use your cell phone. Telecom providers are predicting a glut of traffic through their systems, which may interrupt service.
Apply sunscreen. Wear a hat. Bring water. Pretend you’re going on an all-day hike, because anything can happen in the wilderness.
Don’t forget your eclipse glasses. We know we’ve been over this point, but it bears repeating. Bring the glasses.
Check out these maps with some ideas on best viewing spots…
Oh, and if you really want to make the most of the total solar eclipse, bring optical gear that’s designed specifically for sun-viewing. Here’s a great example:
Catch every detail of the eclipse’s corona with these powerful filtered binoculars. Non-removable solar filters ensure that you won’t accidentally damage your eyes during use. These binoculars magnify images by up to 8 times, allowing you to study the total eclipse up close and personal.
They’re lightweight and finished with slip-resistant rubber, so you can take them anywhere within the path of totality. Pick up a pair here. Hurry, though, because the eclipse waits for no one
Photographing the Total Eclipse: Gear, Tips, and Techniques
The Great American Eclipse of 2017 won’t last long—unless you immortalize the moment with a picture.
Photographing a total eclipse can be exceedingly rewarding, and the images are unforgettable. But remember—except for the instant of totality, the sun’s rays can blind you. Never look at the sun through a camera viewfinder unless you have a certified solar filter on the lens.
With that caveat out of the way, photographers recommend the following tips and practices to get the best possible images of an indescribable moment:
Whatever you do, don’t use your flash. Not during the partial eclipse, not during the totality.
Do bring extra batteries and memory cards. One minute before totality is no time to run out of resources.
Do start practicing. Yesterday. Learn exposures by photographing the sun many, many times before the day of the eclipse.
Do use a tripod. Shaky hands cause blurred images. This is especially true if you’re using your cell phone camera.
This may be obvious by now, but we can’t say it enough: Do not point a camera at the sun without an approved solar filter attached.
It’s not too early to start getting your eclipse photography gear together for the big day. We’re talking about gear like:
This 5.4-filter-factor, 18-stop lens filter blocks infrared and UV radiation that ruins photos (and cameras, and eyeballs). It captures pure images without dulling or interfering with colors. Note, though, that this filter is only for cameras; don’t try to use it with the naked eye.
Supplies are running low. See if the filter that fits your camera is in stock here, with prices between $89.10 and $229, depending on size.
Capturing the Eclipse on an iPhone or GoPro Camera
Let’s be honest: The vast bulk of eclipse-viewers in August 2017 aren’t going to haul out an expensive digital camera, special lenses, and a heavy-duty tripod. They’re going to do what people do these days, which is aim an iPhone at the image and let it fly.
According to USA Today, there’s good news for photographers who plan to rely on phones and GoPros to document the eclipse: You don’t actually need a special filter.
The zoom on these cameras just isn’t extreme enough to amplify the sun’s light. Besides, GoPros and iPhones have very wide angles, which pretty much precludes close-ups of the eclipse. Plus, they’ve got timelapse.
Here’s what you need to effectively turn your phone or your GoPro into a lean, mean, eclipse-capturing machine:
Remember what we said about iPhone cameras not needing solar filters? That’s true…unless, of course, you plan to try digiscoping.
Digiscoping involves attaching a digital camera (even a smartphone camera) to binoculars, telescopes, or even microscopes, essentially transforming stand-alone optics equipment into a high-powered camera lens. High-powered camera lenses definitely do need solar filters to safely capture images of the sun.
Once you have your optics filtered, though, you still need to attach your phone to the eyepiece. That’s where the Carson HookUpz adapter comes into play. It fits virtually every smartphone on the market, including the iPhone 7 Plus, and it attaches smoothly to optical eyepieces between 25 and 58 millimeters.
Digiscope an eclipse. That’s probably not a phrase you thought you’d ever hear. But don’t you want to try it? Get your HookUpz adapter here for $59.99.
If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to get a GoPro camera, here’s a perfect one. Imagine a time-lapse loop of the 2017 eclipse captured with gorgeous 12MP images. Or film the whole thing with GoPro’s 4K video.
And remember: No solar filter necessary. (At least, that’s what USA Today tells us.)
Get yours here for $399.
There is one thing you can do today to improve your photography in an instant: Get a tripod. This model from AmazonBasics weighs just over a pound, and it comes with its own comfortable carrying bag, so it’s no problem to hike out to a better vantage point.
Plus, the price is right. Get it here for $12.96.
Choose landscape or horizontal mode with this rotating smartphone adaptor. You need one of these to bring the benefits of a tripod to your smartphone photography. This does a simple job, and it does it well.
Pick one up here for $7.99.
Experiencing the Solar Eclipse: Getting There in One Piece
Before you can enjoy the remarkable day the sun disappears, if only for a moment, you have to get yourself into the path of totality. For many Americans, that means one thing: summer road trip!
Given the expected crowds, the confined area, and the potential loss of phone service, this road trip is a little different than many others. Take precautions. Before you load up the family and set out for the sight of a lifetime, stock your car with a few extra things, just in case. Things like:
Food, water, and prescription medications. You might end up stuck in traffic for a day and a half. You don’t want to be short on the essentials.
Old-school maps. Don’t get lost in the plains of the Midwest or the Oregon wilderness when your phone service fails. Stock up on paper maps. Pro tip: It is not possible to fold them back the way they came.
Cash. It is king. Besides, some businesses still don’t accept credit cards.
A full gas tank. Fill up when you can. Rural communities might see such a surge of visitors that the gas stations run out. Plus, there’s always the traffic.
In addition to the above, every car should be stocked with a few emergency supplies. We’re talking about things like first aid kits and road assistance equipment. Here are a few good examples:
This compact first-aid kit fits into a corner of your trunk, but it could make all the difference in an emergency. It features first-aid standbys like alcohol pads, bandages, and scissors, plus vinyl gloves, tweezers, and its own handy carrying case.
Be prepared—for just $14.85. Available here.
Every car needs an emergency kit. This well-planned collection includes jump cables, a flashlight, a poncho, and an orange safety vest for roadside repairs. It comes with screwdrivers, cable ties, and bandages. It even has a roll of duct tape.
If anything goes wrong on the road, this kit allows you to handle it. Besides, think of all the friends you’ll make loaning out your jump cables on the crowded desert road?
Get one here for $22.50.
By now, you should be totally prepared to experience the total solar eclipse of 2017. There’s just one more thing to remember: This event isn’t about taking great pictures, or having a road trip, or even finding the best spot in the world to watch. It’s about the awesome forces of the cosmos at work and maybe even finding our place within the grander whole.
So, above all, just remember to pay attention. Someday you’ll say you were there.