As the total eclipse of the sun approaches, many local residents have been heard discussing plans for viewing the unusual heavenly phenomena. Caution should be used during an eclipse even for those who are not making special plans.
One of the most unusual concerns for this eclipse will be traffic issues. The last time a total eclipse passed across the continental United States was in 1918. According to census.gov, the population on July 1, 1919, was 104,514,000. As of now, it is 325,615,401 with NASA estimating 200 million of them living within a day’s drive of the path.
Traffic is expected to be a significant problem within the path of totality as people travel to the comparatively small area where stars will be visible during the day. Anyone planning to adventure into that path is recommended to plan ahead and get to their location early.
“Due to the expected number of people taking part in the event, roadways across portions of the state will see a significant increase in motorists,” stated a release from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. “Authorities are encouraging onlookers to arrive early for the event in an attempt to decrease the number of vehicles on the roadways at one time.”
Just in case, however, they also recommend being prepared for a long sit in traffic including having water and snacks as well as checking for traffic updates.
Even those who will not be in the path of totality may experience traffic concerns as the light dims during the day. “You know when you’re out of the sun a passing cloud can lower the temperature [and make it darker],” said Bruce Mellin of the Forsyth Astronomical Society during an eclipse presentation at the Elkin Public Library Monday evening.
“Use your headlights just as you would at dusk,” said Roy Doron, also of the FAS.
Common sense should be applied when choosing a place to stop as well. “Do not stop on the roadway. Refrain from parking on the shoulder or median portions of the roadway, [and] use designated parking areas,” cautioned the highway patrol, who also reminded drivers to pay attention to their driving and not try to photograph or video the eclipse while moving.
Should an accident occur, motorists are asked to move vehicles out of the path of oncoming traffic and to only use 911 or *HP (*47) in case of emergencies.
Motor safety isn’t the only concern during an eclipse. The most significant danger is damage to the eyes of those who look directly at the sun. “Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly,” stated the NASA website. “Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality.”
For this reason, there are a variety of methods available for safe viewing of the eclipse.
“The cheapest, silliest way to do it is to just look at the light that is coming through the pinholes in the leaves of the tree and you’ll see thousands of eclipses,” said Mellin, conveying the basic principle of a pinhole viewer.
“If you are using some sort of a pinhole device, you don’t look at the sun through the pin hole. People have the wrong idea about that,” said Mellin.
“The simplest thing is just to punch a small hole in a card and focus it on another card,” said Mellin. The viewer then turns their back to the sun, holds up the piece with the hole, and watches the shadows display the heavenly dance.
“The best way to do it is to look at the sun indirectly,” said Mellin, however there are ways to look directly at the sun with protection.
“Just Google or YouTube eclipses and you will find a lot of this stuff,” he said. “There are all kinds of safety videos out there with all kinds of information about eclipses.”
In addition to finding detailed instructions for a variety of viewers, eclipse watchers can find special filtered glasses such as those that were given to attendees who registered in advance for the lecture at the library. Mellin cautioned those intending to purchase solar glasses to do so immediately for the best price, describing his own purchase through Amazon which had increased in price over only a few days.
Some people may already have equipment they intend to use although it may not be safe. “Sunglasses, smoked glass and welders helmets, unless they contain a number 14 filter plate, will not protect your delicate retinas from burning causing permanent blindness,” warned Mellin.
“It used to be that some people would use a piece of overexposed film,” said Mellin. “How many people have film now?”
Some people may think it is safe to look at the sun through a camera or telescope, however that can actually be worse than looking at it directly. “Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury,” stated NASA.
Special filters can be purchased for equipment that will allow for enhanced viewing through these items. Doron recommended using an APS or Micro Four Thirds camera for eclipse photography. “With a crop sensor camera, a lens such as a 100-400mm will give you the equivalent of 160-560mm and a lens such as a 150-600mm will give you a 240-960mm equivalent, which is ideal.”
Doron also recommended an additional camera to take landscape shots. “I plan to have a second camera with a wider-angle lens set on a tripod with the intervalometer timer set to take a picture every second during the event,” said Doron, who hopes to remember to take the filter off the landscape camera during the eclipse while continuing to shot with the other camera.
This is only part of why it is also important to be prepared when planning to photograph the eclipse. “What you probably want to do is have a tripod and have the camera ready for when it happens,” said Doron. “You’ve only got two or three minutes so you probably want to have everything ready for when you’re ready to take those pictures so set everything up beforehand.”
Preparation and planning ahead are the most important factors for enjoying a safe fun eclipse. By expecting to share the singular event with a multitude of other sky watchers and practicing patience and practicality, everyone can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.