Don't get eclipsed by a lack of info on Aug. 21

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Friday, August 11, 2017

Ben Cooper photo, via Astronomy Magazine

A total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will be visible for much of the United States including at least one subdivision on every Class I railroad. 

It's the first total solar eclipse to cross this much of the country since 1918 — meaning most people who are alive today haven't witnessed what's coming.

If it's clear trackside on Aug. 21, plenty of railfans are going to want to experience the moment, so we asked for top viewing tips from Astronomy Magazine's Photo Editor Michael Bakich. See his full tip-list online

Here are just a few highlighted tips:

"5. Watch the weather

"Meteorologists study a chaotic system. Nobody now can tell you with absolute certainty the weather a specific location will experience on eclipse day. And don’t get too tied up in the predictions of cloud cover you’ll see for that date. Many don’t distinguish between “few” (one-eighth to two-eighths of the sky covered), “scattered” (three-eighths to four-eighths), or “broken” (five-eighths to seven-eighths) clouds and overcast. You need to dig deeper.

"6. Stay flexible on eclipse day

"Unless you are certain August 21 will be clear, don’t do anything that would be hard to undo in a short time. For example, let’s say you’re taking a motor home to a certain city. You connect it to power, hook up the sewage hose, extend the awnings, set up chairs, start the grill, and more. But if it’s cloudy six hours, three hours, or even one hour before the eclipse starts, you’re going to want to move to a different location. Think of the time you would have saved if you had waited to set up. Also, the earlier you make your decision to move, the better. I only can imagine what the traffic might be like on eclipse day.

"7. Don’t plan anything funky

"Totality will be the shortest two and a half minutes of your life. All your attention should be on the Sun. Anything else is a waste. And be considerate of those around you. Please, no music. ...

"22. Schedule an after-eclipse party or meal

"Once the eclipse winds down, you’ll be on an emotional high for hours, and so will everyone else. I’ve found no better time to get together with family and friends and just chat. Or, if you’re like me, take a secondary position and just listen to others talking about what they’ve just experienced. Fun!

"23. Record your memories

"Sometime shortly after the eclipse, when the event is still fresh in your mind, take some time to write, voice-record, or make a video of your memories, thoughts, and impressions. A decade from now, such a chronicle will help you relive this fantastic event. Have friends join in, too. Stick a video camera in their faces and capture 30 seconds from each of them. You’ll smile each time you watch it.

"24. Don’t photograph the eclipse

"This tip — specifically directed at first-time eclipse viewers — may sound strange because it’s coming to you from the photo editor of the best-selling astronomy magazine on Earth. But I’ve preached this point to thousands of people who I’ve led to far-flung corners of our planet to stand under the Moon’s shadow. True, few of them have thanked me afterward. But I can tell you of upwards of a hundred people who have told me with trembling voices, “I wish I’d followed your advice. I spent so much time trying to center the image and get the right exposures that I hardly looked at the eclipse at all.” How sad is that? And here’s another point: No picture will capture what your eyes will reveal. Trust me, I’ve seen them all. Only the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of photographers have ever come close. And — no offense meant — but you, with your point-and-shoot pocket camera or off-the-shelf digital SLR, are not one of them."

Still curious? Michael has posted factoids online for your edification.

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