I love to procrastinate. Actually, no. I hate it. But my brain is just SO good at getting me into that mode. So I totally understand if you are just now realizing that one of the biggest astronomical events of a lifetime is happening just a few days from now.
If you’re not already tuned in to all things astronomy, or maybe if you’ve just been super busy, you’re now getting bombarded with messages to protect your eyes for the big solar eclipse happening Monday, August 21st. At least that’s the case if you’re anywhere in the contiguous United States.
Like all good procrastinators, you went right to Amazon to take advantage of your Prime shipping, but everyone is out of stock of eclipse glasses, or they are being sold at outrageous prices.
That doesn’t mean you are out of options! When online shopping falls through, sometimes you just have to suck it up and go to an actual physical store. I know, I know, but you can totally do this. I don’t have any first hand reports of what store stocks are like right now, but I know several retailers such as Lowe’s were carrying reputable eclipse glasses. I’ve been sending everyone I know to the American Astronomical Society solar viewer resource page, so check through your local stores and see if they still have any. If they are out, it might be a long shot, but call your local libraries, as many had glasses to give out for free. NASA also has a list of a bunch of their official viewing locations that will be giving out eclipse glasses as well. But hurry… my campus library went through my stash of free glasses in less than 6 hours, and the students aren’t even back.
Why do you need special glasses? The sun is REALLY REALLY bright, and you can indeed do damage to your eyes looking at it. It’s not just visible light that can hurt your vision, but infrared and ultraviolet, too, so these films are specially made to protect your eyes from all of that. And this goes a million times extra if you plan to use any kind of magnifying device (like binoculars or a telescope) to view the event. There’s special equipment for that as well.
But here’s the thing. If you’re NOT on the path of totality, the Moon will take a good while (2 and a half hours for my friends back in New Hampshire, for example) to cross the Sun. So it is okay to share glasses with a friend if you don’t mind taking turns. While your buddy is using the viewer, you can play with one of several fun projection methods for looking at the Sun indirectly.
Another way to deal with your own lack of eclipse gear is to go to a local public event. Libraries, museums, observatories, science centers, astronomy clubs, and more all over the continent are hosting viewing parties, and you can find several maps of events here. Chances are good that at once of these, not only will you get to use someone’s eclipse gear for a quick peek, you’ll get an educational experience from a real live astronomy geek!
What if you’re not satisfied with a partial eclipse? You want FULL totality. There is a narrow band across the US that will experience a total solar eclipse, and a LOT of people will want to be on it. Towns and counties are bracing for major gridlock, and hotels have been booked for months. On the bright side, you can make a killing on Airbnb if you’re near the eclipse path. I’ve had my plans set for months, but I still plan on filling my rental car with lots of food, water, gas, and emergency supplies before hitting the road super early in the morning to get to my destination. Check out these money saving tips for eclipse travelers and driving trips from AAA if you decide to venture to totality.
At the end of the day, no one can plan the weather. I’m nervously looking at the “partly cloudy” forecast for my own viewing location, but there’s one thing to remember… make the best of the trip. There might be clouds, traffic, and equipment failures, and we can plan all we can to enjoy those few precious moments of totality. But some things are just out of our hands.
Maybe you didn’t plan for a “once”-in-a-lifetime eclipse viewing trip this time around. Well, lucky you, since the total solar eclipse will be revisiting North America in less than 7 years! Take that, lifetime. Mark your calendars now for April 8, 2024, and maybe do a bit of advanced planning for that one.
Most of all, have fun, be safe, and protect your eyes. Unless you’re a nazi…
Check out the most recent episode of “Just Admit I’m Right” where I join our fearless leader Rebecca Watson and Ken Plume to discuss eclipse plans and playlists. Also, see my earlier post of eclipse resources on One Astronomer’s Noise.