Upcoming Solar Eclipse: Top Ten Tips for Observing

MIT Alumni Association
Monday, May 22, 2017

"An eclipse is coming!  An eclipse is coming!" While this may sound like an astronomer's rendition of Paul Revere, the message is not meant as a warning. Rather, it is an encouragement to PLAN NOW FOR THIS MUST SEE EVENT on Monday August 21, 2017.

Read this story at MIT Alumni Association


It has been nearly a century since a total solar eclipse traversed coast-to-coast across the USA. Everyone in North America will have a view of the Moon blocking at least part of the Sun (Partial Eclipse).  But the spectacle of a lifetime is seeing the sun totally eclipsed  by the moon. The narrow “path of totality” will stretch from Salem (Oregon) to Lincoln (Nebraska) to St. Louis (Missouri) to Charleston (South Carolina) on the east coast, the moon takes its first bite out of the sun at 1:28 p.m. eastern daylight time (EDT).

Here are some eclipse observing tips from MIT Professor of Planetary Sciences Richard P. Binzel eclipse enthusiast and seasoned Alumni Travel Program faculty leader.

Tip #1: If you don’t happen to live in the “path of totality,” then make plans to be there on August 21! Visit friends, relatives, or make new friends now!

So what’s the big deal between seeing a PARTIAL versus TOTAL solar eclipse?

Tip #2: A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE is a million times more spectacular than a partial eclipse! That is not hyperbole, it is precisely the factor by which the brightness of the Sun and the sky changes (in an instant!) at the moment of transition from partial eclipse to TOTAL ECLIPSE. At the moment total eclipse begins, the last sliver of the Sun’s disk becomes hidden behind the edge of the Moon. For the duration of the total eclipse (about two minutes), nightfall is all around you even though it is mid-day. Stars appear in the sky! All that is visible of the Sun is its eerie outer glowing halo called the corona. Then just as instantly, the total eclipse ends and daylight dramatically returns as the Moon continues its motion, allowing the Sun’s disk to re-emerge.

Will the total solar eclipse take place near me?

Tip #3: Use this Google map to zoom in exactly on where is the closest or most convenient place for you to travel to be in the path of the total eclipse on August 21.

What about eye safety?

Tip #4: No matter where you will be on August 21, order a pair of special “eclipse glasses.” They are relatively inexpensive and are readily available (while supplies last before they all sell out). Regular sunglasses are not sufficiently safe for solar eclipse viewing.

An excellent link to see more about safe eclipse viewing is on the Space.com website. 

Everyone talks about eye-safety during solar eclipses. It is not because the sun’s light is any more dangerous during an eclipse. (It’s not!) The issue is that eclipses are a time when we are all interested to stare at the Sun: it is never safe to stare at the Sun without proper protection. It is perfectly safe to be pursuing normal activities outside during an eclipse without eclipse glasses. Just have those glasses handy so that you can take a moment to stare at the Sun and check out the workings of the cosmos!

Tip #5: Using just your eyes, with proper eclipse glasses for protection is a very satisfying way to see the event. If you want to use binoculars or a telephoto lens, proper protection is REQUIRED over the front of those lenses too! For more information on this see the link in Tip#4.

Where outside is a good place to watch?

Tip #6: Any place outside that you can see the Sun itself is a place where you can view the eclipse. It can be a yard, a driveway, a parking lot, a baseball field, etc. Anyplace where the Sun is not blocked by trees or buildings is a place where you can view the eclipse. Even if the weather is cloudy and you can’t see the Sun at all, you will notice that everything is unusually dark as you get to the time of maximum eclipse (explanation below). In fact, you may see streetlights switching on in response to the darkening skies.

What time is the eclipse and what will I see if I do stay at home?

Tip #7: Everything happens on Monday, August 21, starting in the morning on the West Coast through early afternoon on the East Coast as the Moon’s shadow sweeps from west to east. For exact details on the timing of events on August 21, click on your viewing location using the map.

Where can I vew the path of totality?

Tip #8: The NASA eclipse map gives all times in “Universal Time.”  You can use the to convert Universal Time to your local time zone.

EXAMPLE A: Zooming in and clicking on the MIT campus, the pop up window tells you that the Moon takes its first bite out of the Sun at 17:28 Universal Time (UT) = 13:28 (1:28 pm Eastern Daylight Time; EDT). The maximum eclipse is at 18:46 UT (2:46 pm EDT). The “Obscuration” label explains that 63% of the Sun will be covered at maximum. Because this is less than 100%, the MIT campus will see only a PARTIAL ECLIPSE. The partial eclipse ends with the Moon’s last bite at 19:59 UT (3:59 pm EDT).

EXAMPLE B: Carbondale, Illinois is the lucky place to be for the longest duration of TOTAL ECLIPSE of anywhere in the USA, about 2 minutes and 40 seconds.The pop up window says the partial phase of the eclipse “first bite” begins at 16:52 UT (11:52 a.m. Central Daylight Time; CDT) and the partial phase ends at 19:47 UT (2:47 pm CDT). The main event, with the Sun completely blocked by the Moon (TOTAL ECLIPSE) begins at 18:20:29 UT (1:20:29 pm CDT) and ends at 18:23:09 UT (1:23:09 pm CDT).  The mid-point of the total eclipse is at 18:21:49 UT (1:21:49 CDT).

Tip #9: If you are in the path of totality, and the Sun is completely covered by the Moon, this is the only EXCEPTION when you can stare at the Sun without eclipse glasses. That’s because the Sun’s bright disk is covered and you will see only the faint outer halo of the Sun. That halo, called the solar corona, will be studied intensively by scientists during the fleeting minutes of totality.

Tip #10: If you decide to travel to be within the “path of totality” on August 21, good for you! Arrive at your destination at least one day (24 hours; two days might be even better) in advance as eclipse traffic jams on or before August 21 could be legendary! Some folks may take to the highways to race against the weather as the time of totality approaches. Traffic safety suggests this may not be a good idea. Remember, you will experience the sudden change in darkness even if you find yourself under clouds for the main event.

Watch this video example of the dramatic change from a partial eclipse to a TOTAL ECLIPSE demonstrating why you should journey into the path of totality. You can also check out a NASA visualization for how and an explanation for why the Moon’s shadow will move across the USA on August 21.

Story Image: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

View the Solar Eclipse on Campus

EAPS Senior Lecturer Amanda S. Bosh will host an eclipse viewing on the MIT campus with specially filtered telescopes.

Monday, August 21 | MIT Campus - Kresge Oval | 1:30 - 3:30pm

Contact Amanda Bosh (x3-4115 | asbosh@mit.edu) to be placed on the email list for notifications.


Richard P. Binzel is Professor of Planetary Sciences and Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow. He is one of the world’s leading scientists in the study of asteroids and Pluto. As the inventor of the Torino Scale, a method for categorizing the impact hazard associated with near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets, his ongoing telescopic research includes the spectral characterization of asteroids posing a potential hazard to Earth as well as those that may be most easily reachable by future robotic and human missions. His scientific analysis has shown the link between major meteorite groups and their formation and source locations. Asteroid number 2873 bears his name, an honor bestowed by the International Astronomical Union in recognition of his contributions to the field. His mapping efforts of Pluto in the 1980s revealed a diverse surface entreating for exploration, finally achieved in 2015 as a co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission. He is also a co-investigator on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission where he leads the development of the student-built flight instrument, the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrograph (REXIS).


Faculty Forum Online: Richard Binzel, professor of Planetary Sciences, discusses the summer 2017 solar eclipse, the New Horizons mission, and fields questions from alumni.