From the Archives: Are you ready for the Great American Eclipse?

In “From the Archives,” I bring back some of the posts from my earlier blogs.

The semester is in full swing and it’s… a doosie. With questions starting to pop up about the upcoming total solar eclipse in North America on April 8th, I thought I’d revive my post from the PREVIOUS total solar eclipse over North America in 2017. All of the links still work, but, obviously the 2017-specific links won’t help you with the upcoming one. You can also see my my “Procrastinator’s Guide to the Solar Eclipse” from that year on Skepchick.

The link for finding solar viewers IS relevant for this upcoming eclipse, so be sure to check that out. I’ll be back with 2024 specific information soon!

I’m pretty darn excited. I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, and I’m getting my first chance to do so, along with many, many residents of North America, on August 21st. I’m heading back to the St. Louis area to see my friends from my post-doc days, visit an elementary school with some cool activities, and chase away the clouds (I hope!) and see my first total solar eclipse. If you’re in the North and Central America, and even parts of South America, you’ll be able to see at least part of an eclipse, so get ready!

There are lots of LOTS of people who have been working hard to make sure that folks get to see the event safely. No, you should NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN without proper equipment. That said, looking at the Sun during an eclipse is no more dangerous than looking at the Sun any other day. It’s just a concern because so many people want to look up! You don’t need expensive equipment, but solar viewers are highly recommended for looking up. The American Astronomical Society has a good primer on eye safety PLUS a page full of reputable vendors that will actually keep your eyes safe from the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light from the Sun while you view. Obviously, there has been a rush on these things, but you can call your local library, since many have been stocked with cheap and free glasses just for this.

Don’t have time to get solar viewers? That’s okay! Indirect methods work as well. Science Friday has FIVE DIY ways to view the eclipse with little to no cost.

Going to the path of totality? Great! It’s going to be PACKED. I’m already a little nervous about it, as towns are expecting gridlock as people swarm to be in the path of totality. Take the advice of Angela Speck, astronomer at the University of Missouri who lives right on the path, and pack water, food, and emergency supplies when you head out on the 21st. Also? Make sure to gas up your vehicle the day before.

You all know how I love citizen science, where everyone can take part in data collection an analysis. This eclipse is providing many such opportunities for doing citizen science, including tracking atmospheric conditions, logging animal behavior, and investigating the ionosphere with radio waves.

As for me? I’m just going to watch and enjoy since it’s my first. I’ve been advised by several experienced eclipse watchers to just enjoy the experience. I took that advice to heart when I saw my first space shuttle launch, and I’m so glad that I did. Totality is super quick, just under two minutes depending on your location, so I plan to soak it all in!

If you’re not on the path of totality, you never really get full darkness, and the Moon will take its time to cross the solar disk. So, you can view at your leisure. I really love this visual by Vox where you can put in your zip code and see when the eclipse will take place, and at what percentage, wherever you are. So plan your day around it if you can!

Here are some great online resources for all your eclipse needs:

See you at totality!

As a postscript, I’ll say that I DID get to see totality in 2017 with friends and it was AMAZING. The part where I badly sprained my ankle on that same trip was… less amazing. I still dressed as Ms. Frizzle, however, as planned. And we were at a lake and I didn’t want to get my bandages wet… it was a whole thing. In that way, I hope to have a less eventful event this time around!

The author dressed as the iconic cartoon character "Ms. Frizzle" with a dress covered in constellations, a wig of red hair, a stuffed iguana on her shoulder, and a solar system mobile on her head. She's also on crutches and holding up one leg that is wrapped in plastic as she is standing on the edge of a lake.