On Monday, August 21, 2017, millions of people across the U.S. will get to see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights -- a total solar eclipse.
With wide-open spaces and low light pollution, public lands are the perfect place for viewing this rare event, and we’re sharing advice for safely witnessing this awesome moment.
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and earth, blocking all or part of the sun. For thousands of years, people have observed this phenomena, and this year many in the U.S. will get that chance! The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979, and the next total eclipse over the U.S. won’t be visible until April 8, 2024.
From beginning to end, the solar eclipse will last up to 3 hours, but the total eclipse (when the moon completely blocks the sun) will be visible from each location for much shorter. For those lucky people in the path of totality, which spans about 70 miles in width and crosses portions of 14 states from Oregon to North Carolina, they’ll get to watch as day turns into night when the moon blocks the sun for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Everyone else will see a partial solar eclipse.
During the partial eclipse, the sun’s rays will cause eye damage and should only be viewed through a solar filter or special eclipse viewing glasses. These can be purchased from numerous sources for as little as $2. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses (even very dark ones) are not enough to protect your eyes.
From Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on the west coast to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the east and Grand Teton, Homestead National Monument, and Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in between, America’s public lands offer some of the best viewing locations for the total solar eclipse.
Whether you choose to watch the eclipse from an iconic national park or a lesser known (and just as beautiful) public land, these tips will help you have a safe and memorable experience while respecting your public lands:
Just as the partial eclipse will damage your eyes, it will also damage your camera unless you place a special solar filter over the lens. These are widely available from photography stores. No filter is needed during totality, so be sure to practice removing your solar filter quickly before the day of totality so that you are not wasting precious time. The dark sky during totality makes it important to have your camera/smartphone on a tripod or some other support to prevent blur.
With a wide angle lense, the sun will appear as a tiny dot in the image, so consider using a telephoto lens. Want to know how large the eclipse will appear? You can practice ahead of time by taking an image of the full sun as long as you have your solar filter on (and protective eyewear).
Make sure to turn off your flash as it won’t improve your photos and will distract other eclipse viewers. Speaking of viewers, consider taking a video of the audience as the eclipse goes into totality -- they are guaranteed to applaud and gasp at the magical sight and will make for some memorable clips.
Unlike the fleeting few minutes of totality, the partial phases of the eclipse provide several hours for creatively composing photos. Take the time to to silhouette foreground subjects like trees, mountains, people or other objects against the skyline and crescent sun to lend the context of your location to the eclipse.
Above all, plan your time during totality to be able to capture some images quickly so that you can spend part of this precious short time enjoying the eclipse itself.