Eclipses explained

13 mistakes first-time eclipse observers make

From underestimating traffic to using flash during totality, here’s what not to do during the eclipse of the Sun

Watching a total solar eclipse can be an overwhelming and baffling experience if you’ve not seen one before. Here’s what not to do:

Mistake #1: Underestimate traffic

The key is to be mobile on the day in case of cloud, but remember that by far the biggest traffic is after the eclipse.

Mistake #2: Overestimate traffic

Staying home due to fear of traffic is a classic rookie error, and sadly a typical response by local people in areas crossed by the Path of Totality, who often panic, fear congestion and annoyance and flee the area for a few days. Get to the  Path of Totality whatever it takes – this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. On the morning of the eclipse traffic may well be relatively light because most people stay where they are.

Mistake #3: Not having a Plan B

If you wake up on eclipse day to cloud you will need to move. Have a Plan B mapped out in advance – but put it into action a few days before eclipse day when the weather patterns will be predictable.

Mistake #4: Underestimate Totality

It’s ALL about Totality. What’s wrong with a 99% partial eclipse? Fewer people and it’s surely only 1% less interesting!? Wrong! The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is like the difference between having super bowl tickets and listening to the game on the radio in the parking lot. If you hear the phrase ‘99% totality’, walk away – there is no such thing!

Mistake #5: Obsess over the centreline

To see Totality at all you must be within Path of Totality, and the duration greatly increases from the southern or northern limit (where Totality will be visible for split-second) to a couple of minutes or more as you get to the center of that path. So just keep away from the edge.

Mistake #6: Get local timings wrong

The event itself takes about three hours, beginning with a partial eclipse, peaking about 90 minutes later with Totality for a few minutes. NASA gives you the Universal Time, but what you need are local times. Timeanddate.com/eclipse is your friend.

Mistake #7: Watching totality on a camera screen

Eclipse photographers who use telescopes always say they made time to see totality with their own eyes, but that’s often not true. How do we know? Because their images of the eclipse are usually upside-down! Don’t waste precious time fiddling with a camera during your first totality. That’s a rookie error of the highest order. You wouldn’t get married while filming your betrothed with a smartphone, so don’t do it during totality.

Mistake #8: Not removing the filter from a camera during totality

If you insist upon photographing the eclipse, at least remember to take the solar filter off. Totality is about the same brightness as a Full Moon; you’ll get nothing through a filter.

Mistake #9: Looking at totality too early without a filter

If you look at the eclipse too early to catch the ‘diamond ring‘ before totality begins it can leave spots in your vision. Even if it only affects your vision for a few minutes, that’s Totality ruined for you. Leave your eclipse glasses on until it goes dark, then remove them; the crowd’s cheers will be the signal. Just aim to see the second diamond ring at the end of totality.

Mistake #10: Using flash during totality

Yes, you’ve decided to take a picture of the darkness during totality. It might be a nice souvenir shot but do turn off the flash. Not only will it ruin your photo, but it will annoy everyone around you.

Mistake #11: Bringing a thermometer

Hey, great idea. Real science! Love it. Except, you just won’t have time to check it during totality, which will make all the measurements you’ve taken in the lead-up a bit pointless. Don’t bother.

Mistake #12: Forget a chair, water & sunscreen

This is a three-hour outdoor event. You’ll need sunscreen (depending on the time of year), a hat, lots of water, food, something to sit on … and somewhere to relieve yourself.

Mistake #13: Disrespect the Moon

Don’t be rude to your host. You may want to hit the road immediately after totality, but you’ll likely only drive into traffic and, besides, isn’t that a bit disrespectful to the Moon? At least keep him company as he moves away from the Sun’s disk, which takes about 80 minutes. Show some interest in the partial eclipse; project a few crescent Suns on the floor using a colander to show your appreciation. Thanks, Moon!