On the day this article is published, it will be exactly one month until the day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse; an event that is expected to cause tens of millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn their eyes (properly protected, it is hoped) skyward to witness one of the most awe-inspiring events able to be seen from Earth by even the most inexperienced – and perhaps even disinterested – astronomical observer. Fortunately, unlike our forbearers, who up until recently (and indeed, some among us still today) who would have noted this blotting out of the Sun with fear, trembling, and supplications to assorted divine powers for its return, we have the benefit of modern science to assure us that ’tis only the passing shadow of the Moon that places us in darkness and that daylight will return in a matter of minutes. Thus we can relax and simply enjoy the experience – that is, of course, if we’re not stuck in traffic frantically trying to reach our respective desired observation points.
The avoidance of being stuck in traffic, as well as ensuring that proper eye protection is ready at hand, that an understanding of how to successfully photograph the event, and knowledge of both what special phenomena to look for as well as why such might occur, are all things that can be accomplished with a little advance preparation. Therefore I would like to offer, for those wanting to get the most out of the experience, a few books and tools that have come to my attention and that I have found worthy of recommendation.
In regard to books about this particular eclipse, as well as eclipses in general, a few recent titles are recommended:
Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon by Frank Close, published by Oxford University Press, has already been given a full length, featured review in The Well-read Naturalist. Combining memoir, travelogue, history of science, and practical observation tips, Professor Close’s book is highly entertaining as well as informative, and would be equally of interest to experienced astronomers as well as to those with no previous interest in the subject whatsoever. If you only read one book in preparation for the 2017 North American solar eclipse, I would certainly recommend that this be that book.
If something a bit more focused on the practical side of observing the 2017 eclipse – as well as the next one visible across North America in 2024 – and generously sprinkled with interesting tidbits from eclipses in the distant as well as more recent past, then Mark Littmann’s and Fred Espenak’s Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024 from Oxford University Press is the book for you. Building upon the third edition of Littman, Espenak, and Ken Willcox’s Totality: Eclipses of the Sun from 2009, this new book incorporates a wealth of maps, diagrams, images, and other useful information – with accompanying, easy-to-understand explanations of how to use them – to make this the more or less definitive how-to guide for observing the 2017 eclipse.
For those looking for something a bit more historical in its focus, David Baron’s recently published American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World from Liveright (W.W. Norton & Company) takes as its subject the total solar eclipse of 1878 and “re-creates this epic tale of ambition, failure, and glory in a narrative that reveals as much about the historical trajectory of a striving young nation as it does about those scant three minutes when the blue sky blackened and stars appeared in mid-afternoon.” I did not receive a copy for review; however a broadcast interview I heard with its author on Oregon Public Broadcasting‘s Think Out Loud leads me to think it is worth consideration.
For those who, after witnessing such a remarkable spectacle, might wish to further their understanding of the object that made the entire event possible – Earth’s Moon – and it’s relationship to this planet, I would recommend Ernest Naylor’s Moonstruck: How Lunar Cycles Affect Life from Oxford University Press. Taking up a very popular and long-standing subject – the influence of the Moon on a variety of life forms here on Earth – Professor Naylor cuts through the legends and folklore, and explains the present state of scientific understanding about the Moon’s influences on Earth-bound life.
And, of course, it would be unforgivable of me not to include one of my favorite series of “get-up-to-speed-quickly,” explanatory books, the Very Short Introductions from Oxford University Press, in such a list of recommended titles. In this case, of course, the relevant volume would be David Rothery’s Moons: A Very Short Introduction. Explaining the structure, motions, and influences of not only Earth’s Moon but the moons of the other planets in our solar system as well, Moons is a superbly handy little volume to enhance anyone’s understanding of the varieties of moons to be found in our solar “neighborhood.”
Now then, once you’ve become familiar with the important aspects of eclipses, their history, and how to view them, the question remains: what are you going to use to view the 2017 one, as well as perhaps any others you find yourself in a position to observe in the future, safely? To this, I have a few suggestions I hope you’ll find useful.
You’ve no doubt seen the little paper glasses that are for sale on nearly every check-out counter anywhere near the projected band of totality. These can provide safe viewing of the event, however as so many different sources are now offering them for sale, there is increasing concern that not all of those being sold have been tested to be fully compliant with ISO standards for solar viewing. As with most anything in which an element of personal safety is involved, it’s best to acquire your eclipse viewing products from a reliable and trust-worthy source. Thus, for simple glasses, I recommend the Celestron EclipSmart Solar Shades Observing Kit . In this kit you get four ISO compliant EclipSmart solar shades and a nice thirty-two page booklet about the eclipse; just the thing for families or groups of friends planning to view the event.
For those who are a bit more serious and wish to record the event with a standard digital or mobile phone camera, Celestron also offers the EclipSmart Deluxe Solar Observing & Imaging Kit that features a more durable, hard-framed wrap-around set of EclipSmart solar glasses and an EclipSmart camera filter.
Then, there are the tools that I believe any good general naturalist should possess at least one of – I mean, of course, solar binoculars and solar telescopes. Just as the essential kit of any general naturalist should include – in addition to such things as sample vials, tweezers, insect and pond nets, and other collecting basics – a good hand lens, a general purpose binocular, a basic stereoscope or microscope, and and easy-to-use telescope, so should such an equipment list now, given the recent trend toward the affordability of them, a solar observing optic. After all, solar activity produces important and sometimes wide-spread effects upon Earth each and every day. Sunspots, solar flares, and of course solar eclipses – both partial and total – are all things that can and should be observed by curious naturalists to widen their body of knowledge about the planet and its myriad and interwoven systems. And to observe them more closely, a magnified, solar viewing optic is needed.
If desired, one can go deeply into hock acquiring a complex solar viewing telescope; however in preparation for the 2017 North American solar eclipse, Celestron brought out three magnified solar viewing optics (all ISO compliant, of course and part of their EclipSmart product line); two binoculars and a small telescope.
For under thirty-five bucks you can get an EclipSmart 10x25mm Solar Binocular, and for around sixty, you can get the larger (and in my opinion, more comfortable – as would be expected of a comparison between a compact and full-size binocular model) EclipSmart 10x42mm model. Both offer 10x magnification of the sun that is superb for not only eclipse viewing but also observing such changeable phenomena as sunspots on the solar disk.
Then, for the truly curious as well as those who might be viewing solar phenomena in the company of some who might not be able to successfully locate the solar disk in a hand-held instrument, there is the Celestron EclipSmart 50mm Solar Telescope. Sold with a tripod and a backpack case, this 50mm objective, solar safe telescope offers 18x views of the sun. It even includes an ingenious little solar finder to allow for safe location of the sun and correct positioning of the scope to view it. For my part, such an instrument is not only a great tool for any general naturalist but also for any teacher wishing to include a generous “Wow!” factor into his or her astronomy unit lesson plans.
So there you have them – the books and tools needed for enjoyable, satisfying, and safe viewing of the 2017 North American solar eclipse, as well as any future eclipse, sun spots, or other generally observable solar phenomena. I hope that if you are in a location from which the eclipse will be visible that you make plans to witness it – having seen one myself decades ago, I can readily attest that they are something not to be missed.
Disclaimer: In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that some of the copies of the books read in order to produce this article were provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher. It is further disclosed that the author is a product manager for Celestron; however the firm did not commission, reimburse, or in any other way compensate The Well-read Naturalist for the content herein. Just like everything recommended by The Well-read Naturalist, it wouldn’t be included here if it weren’t something the publisher would personally use.