A solar eclipse is coming soon but what should you do to prepare to observe it? There is a point during a total, partial, and annular eclipse when the Sun is blocked from view, and the first and most important thing you should know is to never look directly at the sun. With that out of the way, there are several other things you can do to prepare for an upcoming eclipse. Check out what they are below and find a link to purchase solar eclipse sunglasses.
It never hurts to learn about this awesome phenomenon before actually seeing it. Below is some context to help you understand how a solar eclipse occurs, the different types of eclipses, and the best place to view one before you jump into tips.
How Does a Solar Eclipse Occur?
In the simplest terms: a solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. The moon casts a shadow that falls on the Earth making the area underneath change dramatically by seemingly turning day into night. It's a rare event that one is lucky to see if they can manage it! The dark period may last minutes, making it an exciting phenomenon for folks to experience as they look around and see the Sun's incredible impact on our humble planet.
If you weren't aware, there isn't just one type of eclipse. You may have heard of a total eclipse but it might surprise you to know that there are four different types:
Total - completely blocks the sun from view
Partial - blocks the sun, but not completely
Annular - the moon is at its farthest and creates a "ring of fire" effect
Hybrid - very rare; it switches from "total" to "annular" depending on location (this occurred in April 2023)
What is the Best Place to View an Eclipse?
The darkest area impacted by a solar eclipse is called the umbra. This is the best place to be during an eclipse because you are in the optimal place to see the eclipse in its full glory. With modern science, the umbra's movement across the Earth - also known as the path of an eclipse - can be predicted. Since it can be predicted, folks planning a trip to these lucky towns and areas tend to fill up lodgings quickly. If time is on your side, consider making plans sooner than later and make reservations at campgrounds or other lodgings to ensure your spot to prepare for the eclipse.
Did you know that you can take a picture of a solar eclipse? Learn more by reading our post: How to Photograph an Eclipse.
Tips to Prepare for the Solar Eclipse
You should know that planning is important for this solar event. It would be helpful to prepare for an outing in advance because a solar eclipse lasts minutes at most, therefore, the lead-up sets the pace for your experience. Without proper planning, you might miss out on a chance to see a rare event such as this. Start planning now and check out our post about all upcoming solar eclipses until 2100.
Tip #1: Plan in advance
This is the first tip because preparation is truly key here. Hotels and camps could potentially sell out or run out of reservations quickly with grand events like this. If you want to see an eclipse, think about where you're going, especially if it's out of town, and make reservations as soon as you can. Travel by car can also be an issue the day leading up to the eclipse, as might other modes of transportation. Take time to think about all aspects of travel, even if you plan to stay in a penumbral area, which also experiences darkness but is not as profound as under the umbra.
Additionally, find out where you'll be observing from (if it's not at your lodgings) once you arrive. This leads us to our next tip...
Tip #2: Find a safe place to observe
Assuming you have secured lodgings that are away from the path of the eclipse, you then have to scout and choose a safe location to view the eclipse. Some folks like to wing it and don't mind if they don't have a designated spot as long as they can see the solar eclipse. However, if you like to prepare, operate with the idea that if you're not there early, you won't have a spot. This also means you might be waiting a long time before the eclipse even occurs to save your spot.
People tend to camp out early in their designated spot so they don't lose it. It's best to avoid places where you can't linger because you might be asked to leave. Instead, consider places where you can hang out as if in a picnic setting (chairs, picnic blankets, etc). Pro tip: Bring chairs, umbrellas for shade, and water and snacks while you wait!
Tip #3: Use equipment created for solar Eclipse observation
This is extremely important. The reason why is that it's a major safety concern. Under NO circumstance should you look directly at the sun/eclipse.
No matter what your game plan is for viewing the eclipse, you will need to look through a device with a solar filter. Whether that equipment falls under solar eclipse glasses, telescopes, or cameras and binoculars. Unless it is fitted with a solar filter that meets standards you should not look at the Sun.
Tip #4: Don't forget to look around and enjoy!
This is a rare event, so don't get too swept up trying to witness it that you forget to enjoy the experience. That's it!
These are great tips for being proactive about the eclipse. However, that's not all to consider. Sometimes the most obvious things go unnoticed and, genuinely, it's not something to look over with an event as uncommon as a solar eclipse. So, we've included more considerations below.
Obvious and Realistic Tips for the Underprepared
If your goal is to simply observe a solar eclipse to check it off your bucket list, perhaps you don't need to prepare as much as others who want to take a photo, video, or make an event out of it. Depending on your plans, especially if it is your first time observing a solar eclipse, it's worth taking note of these other tips that you might not have thought about:
Know What Time the Eclipse Starts
You might have the correct date, but do you know what time the celestial event begins and ends? If you don't, you could accidentally miss it! Look into the eclipse time for the upcoming eclipse and take into consideration other things like planning for travel (an extra day of travel might be necessary) and what to pack and when to head out.
Check out Time and Date for times on upcoming solar eclipses.
Prepare for Potential Disappointment
The eclipse will happen regardless of whether you see it or not. While being prepared sets you up for success, unfortunate circumstances may occur that you cannot control, like the weather. The sky could be overcast, the chance of rain could dampen your experience, or high gusts could cause you to have to leave early for safety reasons. Anything can happen. So, while you prepare for the best outcome, know that there could be less-than-desirable scenarios.
Don't Overcomplicate the Process
At the bare minimum, all you need for a solar eclipse is a pair of solar eclipse glasses. Don't buy expensive gear you'll never use again if that's not in your best interest or budget. As long as you have these special glasses, get yourself to the path of the eclipse, and you're set.
If you plan to photograph the solar eclipse, you might need to make more preparations to ensure you don't miss your shot. Take a look at our How to Photograph Solar Eclipses post.
Products to Safely Observe the Eclipse
In August 2017, we were lucky to be in a penumbral area where we could witness part of the Great American Solar Eclipse. While not in the path of totality, we could still see the Moon passing in front of the Sun.
This was the subject of one of our big videos, Episode 7 of Galactic Hunter.
We highly encourage you to use proper eye protection when viewing the Sun, whether you are wearing it or observing through it. Avoid buying or using homemade filters or any materials that are not created for solar observation.
In our experience, glasses are the most affordable option. Not only is it the cheapest, but it's also the easiest to access and does not have a barrier to how to use it. However, ensure they meet the ISO 12312-2 standard. This standard protects your eyes from harmful UV and IR radiation and reduces visible light in the lenses.
Other options for solar eclipse observation:
Solar eclipse glasses
Solar filter and camera
Solar filter binoculars
Solar filter and phone
Do you sense a pattern here? (Solar filter!)
Where to Buy Solar Eclipse Glasses
Solar eclipse sunglasses can be found in stores and online. Online shopping will give you more options for style as well as durability. You can find colorful pairs or robust glasses that can last for years. Again, the compliance standard for solar eclipse glasses is ISO 12312-2, so look for that in the specifications when you order a pair online.
You can purchase a pair of sunglasses from High Point Scientific - click here.
If you plan to have family members, astronomy clubs, or students that you want to see the eclipse, consider ordering ahead of time to give yourself enough wiggle room to receive an order. It may take a while to receive them because of the demand. Other folks might have the same plan and, again, we refer to tip #1 - plan in advance.
Find out the gear we recommend if you are observing the eclipse with a telescope.
Last Ditch Effort for Solar Eclipse Viewing
Local shops might have solar eclipse glasses in stock! We went online to find a local store selling them and found them at a hardware store. We highly recommend avoiding this tactic because it does not assure that you will be able to view the solar eclipse. Try to order glasses online or find them in-store as soon as you can.
If you are unsuccessful with no other options, you can also reach out to your local astronomical society because they might have a viewing party or an event planned! However, this mostly applies to people in the path of totality.
A solar eclipse is a rare celestial event that is a can't-miss experience. The Sun becomes blocked by the Moon, and to us on Earth, the shadow created turns the affected area dark which is incredibly unique. This experience is worth seeing and if you follow our tips outlined above, you will be prepared! Those tips are to: plan in advance, find a good spot to observe from, have proper eye protection to view the eclipse, and of course, don't forget to enjoy it!
The best option for viewing a solar eclipse is solar eclipse glasses. These are specifically designed to protect your eyes. Purchasing glasses online will give you more options for style, but you might be able to find a pair in a local store. However, purchasing in advance is your best bet for observing the eclipse. If all else fails, contact your city's astronomical society in case they have a viewing party.
Again, you can purchase solar eclipse glasses and observation kits for groups at High Point Scientific.
Learn more about the night sky with our books covering astronomy topics such as astrophotography guides and journals, constellations, Messier objects, and more. Click the photo to learn more.