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Starts With A Bang

Five Things You Must Not Do During Totality At The Solar Eclipse

If you make the wrong decisions as far as what you do and look at during the moments of totality, you risk squandering the experience of a lifetime. Image credit: Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be.

It’s a great show in total darkness. Here’s how to not ruin it for yourself.


“Yes, I am well aware that nature — or what we call nature: that totality of objects and processes that surrounds us and that alternately creates us and devours us — is neither our accomplice nor our confidant.” –Octavio Paz

The Great American Eclipse is almost upon us, and millions will be flocking to the path of totality.

The path of totality stretches from coast-to-coast along the United States, touching parts of 14 different states. Millions of people will be flocking to the path of totality to experience the event. Image credit: Michael Zeller / greatamericaneclipse.com.

Although there are many great activities to do before, after and during, here are the top things you must not do during those moments of darkness.

Messing around with photography is a great way to miss the incredible sights, sounds, and experiences of a total solar eclipse. Unless you’ve experienced enough total eclipses that you don’t mind missing one, leave photography to the pros. Image credit: Beawiharta/Reuters.

1.) Do not waste your time photographing it. Totality is brief, and you won’t experience it again for years.

A wide-angle, long-exposure view of a total solar eclipse can reveal incredible features that are otherwise invisible during the day, including background stars, plasma loops on the Sun, the solar corona extending a great distance, and much more. If this is your first total eclipse, skip the photography and experience the phenomenon for yourself. Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller, Peter Aniol.

Experienced, professional eclipse photographers will produce the best pictures, but only you will get your first-person experience.

When the moments of totality, it is 100% safe to look directly at the Sun and its corona with your naked eyes. If you leave your eclipse glasses on, you won’t see anything at all. Image credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

2.) Do not leave your eclipse glasses on during totality. As soon as you cannot see the Sun through your eclipse glasses, take them off. Totality is here.

During totality, it’s safe to use an unfiltered telescope, pair of binoculars, or other magnifying device to view the Sun’s edge and corona. If you’re still looking through it the instant totality ends, even for the briefest of moments, you can blind yourself permanently. Image credit: Richard Bouheti/AFP/Getty Images.

3.) Stop viewing the Sun through binoculars/telescopes before totality ends. Looking at direct Sun for even a split second through binoculars/telescopes can blind you forever.

An instant of direct sunlight onto your naked eye won’t blind you, but should be a signal to you to immediately put your eclipse glasses back on if you want to see the Sun again. (And you do!) Image credit: Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images.

Putting your eclipse glasses back on as soon as totality ends for your naked eyes is fine.

Street lights will alight, the temperature will fall rapidly, and daytime animals will sleep while nighttime animals may emerge. Don’t forget to take in the whole experience. Image credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

4.) Don’t rely solely on your eyes. The temperature will plummet; nocturnal animals may emerge; street lamps light up; birds fall silent. Take it all in.

A panorama of the 2012 solar eclipse shows a region of darkness in the night sky, surrounded by the bright region where the Moon’s eclipse shadow does not land. Image credit: Jan Sladecek; Miloslav Druckmuller.

5.) Don’t notice or do one thing exclusively. Take in the Sun’s active corona, the entire sky, the stars and planets, and the shadowed, dark Earth before totality ends.

There will be plenty to see all around you during totality, from the light around the horizon to the Sun’s changing corona to stars in the daytime sky. Image credit: Luc Jamet.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of an astronomical phenomenon or object in pictures, visualizations, and no more than 200 words.

Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.

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