Friday, 14 October 2016

What should you bring to a total solar eclipse?

I get asked this question frequently. What should one bring to a total solar eclipse? The answer is simple. If this is your first total solar eclipse, bring yourself and if you know how to use them, binoculars.
Choosing what to bring
And seriously, I do mean to only bring binoculars if you know how to use them. If you are a novice to such optics, don't bring anything but yourself (and vision correction glasses or contacts). You will be looking at something that is about twice or three times the size of the Full Moon. The actual object of interest, the solar corona, extends several times further but requires that you either use binoculars or have dark adapted your eyes.

If you own a pair of binoculars, try looking at the Moon when it is visible. Holding binoculars gets easier with practice so do not be discouraged if the first efforts are difficult. I have used small binoculars as well as big ones and found the view good with all. Currently I use 15x70 binoculars which are rather awkward and heavy (15 means 15x magnification and 70 denotes the size of the aperture). While better suited for a use on a tripod the view is fantastic and for a few minutes it is easy to hold them steady enough to enjoy the view. Of course, as an eclipse veteran, my hands do not shake as they once did due to the excitement of the moment. To get past that issue, consider image stabilized binoculars - they work great!

Dark Adapting
Dark adaptation before the total part of the eclipse is not easy. The Sun is out. Kind of hard to dark-adapt your eyes unless you use an eyepatch or red filtered goggles (after dark adapting in doors). While an eye patch may sound enticing, you might want to try it out for a bit before the eclipse is coming. I found them uncomfortable and not fully functional. Had I spent time before the eclipse day testing them out I would have had more success, but hey, who wants to walk around with an eye patch? I am clumsy enough.

For photography fans taking pictures of an eclipse is not difficult. See my web pages about eclipse photography. In those pages you will find some recommendations about equipment and styles. Of course this information is constantly updating, so please send me anything you have learned or tips you would like to see shared with others.

Bring binoculars or a small telescope at best. Unless you are doing a recreation of the experiments to measure stellar defection caused by the gravitation of the Sun you really don't want a big telescope. The view through binoculars and small field scopes is more than amazing. Astronomers are encouraged strongly to see a total solar eclipse at least once. It might just change your ideas about how stars appear to the eye. My recommended telescope for eclipse chasing is the Questar 3.5". Very portable and amazing views. Plus if you are traveling to someplace different, it is a great field telescope for basic observing.

So what should you bring? Yourself, any required corrective lenses (and bring a spare), and binoculars. Beyond that, it is up to you but let me finish with this thought - those few minutes of totality will pass quickly. The less you have to do the better. Just sit back and enjoy the show!

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