What’s your game plan for the Great American Eclipse?

Aug 13, 2017

If you’re reading this in the United States, you’re perfectly positioned for a dazzling glimpse of the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21.

In the US, the total eclipse will cross 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina, and, according to NASA, a partial eclipse will be visible across North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe.

But how are you planning to watch the eclipse? Unless you booked your hotel room months (or years!) in advance, you might still be working out a game plan. For that, University of Missouri astronomy professor Angela Speck and Science Friday education director Ariel Zych have some tips.

And once you do get your eclipse plan nailed down, we want to hear your eclipse stories

1. Where should I travel to?

If you can, check out the total eclipse. “When you have a partial eclipse, there’s still enough sunlight that it doesn’t go dark,” Speck says. “Even if you have 99.9 percent of the sun covered up with the moon, there’s still 0.1 percent showing. That’s a thousandth, and that means it’s still 1,000 times brighter than the full moon.”

“So, for people who are close to the path of totality, they should try to get to it, because 99 percent of the eclipse is not 99 percent of the experience.”

2. Hotels are booked up where I want to go. Where should I stay?

Try checking rental sites like Airbnb for last-minute openings along the eclipse path. “There are people who have been living under a rock and don’t yet know, or have only just found out, that this is such a big deal, and they’re starting to look at Airbnb,” Speck says.

Related: What you need to know about this month’s total solar eclipse

“Even though we think of it as being completely full from the point of view of accommodation, there may well still be some places where people have either booked more than one spot and they’re waiting to see where they want to go, or people haven’t decided to rent out a room until just now. So, it’s worth looking around at what is available.”

If you do travel, she says, plan for heavy traffic — and bring food and water along with you.

3. How can I safely watch the eclipse?

Regular sunglasses won’t protect your eyes during the eclipse, but luckily, it’s easy to find viewers that will.

Many libraries and even cities are offering special eclipse glasses for free, Speck says, and if you need to buy a pair, the American Astronomical Society has a list of reputable suppliers on its website. “If you look around, they shouldn’t retail for more than about $2 apiece,” she adds. “But you absolutely want to get these because it’s the only safe way to look directly at the sun.”

You can also make your own pinhole projector from a box or your hands to project an image of the eclipse onto a surface for safe viewing. Even a kitchen colander will do the trick, Speck says. “If you hold that up during the partial eclipse, you’ll get images of the partially eclipsed sun through each of the holes, so it makes a cool pattern on the ground,” she explains. Oddly enough, you can also look at the shadow of a tree during the partial eclipse — gaps between the tree’s leaves project crescent suns there, too.

“So, it’s really something that there’s lots of ways to improvise it,” she says. “It’s not quite the same as getting to look at it with your eyes directly with the glasses on, but you still get to see what’s going on.”

4. Can I do more during the eclipse than just watch?

Yes! You use your eclipse observations to support cutting-edge scientific research. “Check out eclipse2017.nasa.gov for ways that you can collect data during the eclipse,” says Zych, a co-founder of Science Friday’s Science Club. “If you want to collect audio for the Eclipse Soundscapes Project, if you want to collect observations of wildlife [and] wildlife behaviors for Cal Academy of Sciences’ Citizen Science project, go for it.”

But in the days leading up to the eclipse on Aug. 21, she adds, “one of the most important things that you can do as a lover of science is to tell other people about it happening.”

5. I just found out about the eclipse. How can I spread the word? 

Zych has a nonexhaustive list of ways: “You can make cool GIFs. You can make memes. You can send photos to your loved ones or postcards of where you’re going. You can draw maps. You can make signs. You can do a dance. You can write a song.” (One listener of PRI's The World offered up a poem in the comments section.)

“If you speak another language, take this chance to make another polylinguistic invitation to see the eclipse,” she says. You can even share ways to experience the eclipse without seeing it: The Eclipse Soundscapes Project will use touch and audio technology to help users do just that, in real time.

Related: Helping the blind 'see' the solar eclipse

“So, these are all great examples of ways that you can apply yourself to helping the entire nation share in this incredible science experience,” Zych says. And let us, and Science Club, know how you spread the word!

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Science Friday with Ira Flatow. For more eclipse information, check out SciFri’s Great American Eclipse spotlight

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