7 things you need to know about the Great American Eclipse
The astronomical interest in the coming August eclipse has Americans from Oregon to South Carolina buzzing with celestial excitement. But Bryan Brewer has always been fascinated with eclipses — so much so that he wrote his first edition of “Eclipse: History. Science. Awe.” in anticipation of seeing his first, in February of 1979. “It was in the Pacific Northwest on a cloudy, grey day, and we just happened to be in a spot where the clouds had parted,” he said. In the 38 years since that fortunate first encounter, he’s seen four more — in Hawaii, Brazil, the Caribbean and Germany. He updated “Eclipse,” which is now in its third edition, ahead of the Aug. 21 event.
For Coloradans, the closest places for viewing the total eclipse are in Wyoming and Nebraska. Sojourners beware, though: hotels in the “path of totality” — the track of the moon’s shadow across Earth — started filling up months ago. But that shouldn’t quash the fun for the 12 million Americans who live near the 70-mile-wide path, or the some 100 million people who can expect to see a partial eclipse.
We sat down with Brewer to hear his expert recommendations about what you need to know for Aug. 21.
Don’t plan on last minute travel.
This is the first solar eclipse crossing the continental U.S. in 99 years, Brewer said. “You can expect the worst traffic jam of all time.” If you have plans to travel, arrive a day or two early. Then stay put, as last-minute mobility may be difficult on public roadways.
The August eclipse could break the internet.
All of North America will be able to see the rare alignment of sun and moon. That means all of North America — and billions across the globe — will be crowding social media for pictures, videos and news of the event. Overwhelming traffic might shut down more than roadways, Brewer warned, frustrating internet users across the world during peak view-
ing hours, from roughly 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. MTD.
Getting inside the path of totality is a must.
For enthusiasts, 95 percent won’t cut it,” Brewer says. “A partial eclipse just isn’t the same thing. It’s not even close.” He advises eclipse watchers to move as close to the center of the path of totality as possible. The full eclipse will last between two and three minutes, depending on location. The partial eclipse can linger as long as a few hours for those outside the path of totality. NASA’S interactive map (eclipse2017.nasa.gov) will tell you everything you need to know about eclipse-viewing at your location.
Wear eclipse glasses before the event — and take them off during totality.
Experts stress that the only safe way to look directly at the sun, except at the brief phase of totality (in the path of totality), is using a special-purpose solar filter, popularly known as eclipse glasses. Eclipse glasses block more UV rays than everyday sunglasses, protecting your retinas from burning even when you feel no discomfort looking at the sun through shades. Brewer wants to remind viewers traveling to the path of totality to take off the glasses during peak eclipse. “I’ve heard stories of people who wear the glasses through the whole event,” Brewer says, shaking his head. “They say, ‘It was cool and all, but it didn’t seem that special.’ Of course it wasn’t that special — you missed the best part!”
Get excited about a backup plan.
The tragic irony of eclipses, Brewer says, is that “you know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know if you’re going to see it.” That’s because of weather. Astronomers can predict eclipses hundreds of years in advance with stunning accuracy and precision. Day-to-day weather, however, still stumps meteorologists. In case of inclement weather, Brewer advises looking forward to a backup plan. Try bringing champagne: to celebrate a successful viewing or to wash down a cloudy bust.
Don’t bother recording the eclipse.
The total eclipse will only last 2½ minutes for most of Wyoming. Don’t waste precious time trying to snap the perfect picture of the sun, Brewer said. Most phone cameras can’t handle sunlight, even during a total eclipse. If you manage to grab a serviceable picture, you’ll be disappointed how small the sun appears. “It’ll be just a little dink in the sky,” Brewer said. Instead, he advises recording reactions to the eclipse. “Eclipses can be life-changing,” he said. “You might want to remember how it changed yours.”
Open yourself up to awe.
Eclipses have fascinated human civilization for millennia. The ancient Egyptians, Mayans, Greeks and Chinese all had elaborate traditions and beliefs surrounding the logic-defying event. “The Tahitians thought eclipses were the gods making love,” Brewer said about the overlapping of the male-associated sun and the female-associated moon. Modern humans can still experience the same inexplicable feeling of awe that make eclipses so addicting and even therapeutic. “Awe can help reset your thinking,” Brewer said. “There’s research that awe leads to a relaxation of your nervous system, helping you feel more interested in and content with the universe all at once.”
People in Boulder experienced a partial eclipse of the sun setting over the Flatirons on May 20, 2012.
Jessica Kutz, with glasses, of Boulder, right, and others catch a glimpse of the partial eclipse as it peeked out from behind the clouds on May 20, 2012. Dozens of people gathered on the Boulder overlook on Highway 36 just southeast of Boulder to get a perfect view of the eclipsing sun as it set over the flatirons.