How to View the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
August 11, 2015
The 2017 eclipse is fast approaching, promising to dazzle sky-watchers across the United States! But how can you make sure you have the best viewing experience, especially if this will be your first eclipse? Just follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to a memorable experience.
Use proper eye protection
Even when partially obscured by the Moon, sunlight is extremely harmful to the eyes. That’s why it’s important that your eyes are always protected during solar observation. If you plan to view the 2017 eclipse, make sure you use proper solar filters.
You can use specialized solar glasses or telescopes with approved solar filters attached to the objective lenses. When using a telescope, never use a Herschel wedge or eyepiece solar filter to view the Sun. Doing so can cause heat to build up inside the telescope, causing cracks in the optics and filters and allowing unfiltered sunlight to pass through to the eye.
The only time during a total eclipse that you can view the Sun without eye protection is during totality, when the Moon is completely obscuring light from the Sun. As soon as the Moon begins to drift off of the Sun, you must resume using solar filters.
If you are not in the path of totality and will only be viewing a partial eclipse, you must use eye protection the entire time. The eclipse will resemble a “cookie bite.”
Get in the eclipse’s path—close is not close enough
To experience the true magic of the 2017 solar eclipse, you must be within the path of totality. NASA has created a map showing where the eclipse will be visible. If you stray from this area, the sky will not darken, and you will not be able to view the corona. The difference between a 100% eclipse and 95% eclipse will be like night and day—literally! If you will be in the area, do whatever you can to ensure you reach the path of totality!
Make plans now, but stay flexible
Prime viewing areas are already booking up, well over two years in advance of the eclipse. If you’ll be traveling across state lines, make your hotel reservations now to avoid scrambling and paying premium prices later. With that said, weather conditions and other factors can always change. If you’ll be flying to your destination, rent a car so that you can change your viewing site at the last minute if necessary. You don’t want unexpected clouds or a sudden downpour to ruin this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Choose the right equipment and test it early
While it’s possible to view a total eclipse with nothing more than a pair of solar glasses, we at TelescopesPlus.com would be remiss if we didn’t strongly recommend bringing a telescope with a solar filter! Even a simple entry-level telescope will show you detail on the surface of the Sun and provide fascinating views all the way through the eclipse event. Begin observing before the Moon starts to move over the solar disk and you might see a few sunspots on the surface. As the hours progress, you can keep tabs on when the sunspots are “swallowed up” by the eclipse.
Capturing images or video through your telescope might sound complicated, but there are several easy imaging options that can help you share your eclipse experience for years to come. The simplest solution is attaching a smartphone adapter to your telescope. This device resembles a phone case, but is fitted with an adapter that slides seamlessly over your telescope eyepiece. Once you set up the adapter, you’re ready to snap a perfectly aligned shot, hassle-free.
If you have a DSLR camera and a basic computerized telescope, you can image the eclipse through the telescope’s optics with just a couple inexpensive accessories. You’ll need a basic T-adapter along with a T-ring specific to your camera model. Once you’ve attached the camera to your telescope’s prime focus, you’ll want to capture a few short exposures. Your telescope’s built-in tracking will keep the image sharp.
Finally, consider using a webcam-style planetary imager to capture the full eclipse through your telescope. These small cameras usually contain CCD or CMOS imaging sensors. Some are built specifically with solar imaging in mind, though just about any will work. The camera connects to your PC via USB, so you can capture video directly to your hard drive.
No matter which method you choose, make sure to practice setting up your gear and observing/imaging the Sun before the big day! After a few practice runs, you’ll be comfortable with your equipment. All that’s left is enjoying the eclipse and capturing some amazing shots!