This article is a travel topic
This is an article on how to travel to and observe the solar eclipse.
A solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon, in which the sun is obscured by the moon. There are several types of solar eclipse:
- total, in which the normally visible parts of the sun are totally obscured, causing night-like darkness to fall for several minutes, and the corona — the sun's normally invisible atmosphere — to be seen radiating around the black circle of the moon
- annular, in which the moon obscures the centre of the sun, causing a bright ring to be seen around the dark moon
- hybrid, in which at various points along the eclipse's path either a annular or total eclipse is seen
- partial, in which a fraction of the sun's surface is obscured by part of the moon
Total eclipses are the most dramatic solar eclipse, a very strange and beautiful spectacle. A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth once or twice most years but is only visible from a narrow ribbon of the surface — the eclipse's path — with a partial eclipse experienced in a wider area. Partial eclipses are the least dramatic: unless one is viewing the eclipse deliberately it often just appears to be a somewhat dim day, as if overcast.
Annular and total eclipses begin with a partial eclipse in which progressively more of the sun is eclipsed until the maximum eclipse, called totality for total eclipses. The partial eclipse may last one hour or more either side of totality, totality is usually only a few minutes in length or less.
Total eclipses can be easily seen and appreciated with the naked eye, but amateur astronomors frequently travel to them with telescopes. Some travellers make travelling to eclipses a priority and may see many, they are called umbraphiles.
Because solar eclipses, especially those viewable easily from land, are fairly rare, there are two problems with getting to them: the first is finding transport to the location at all and the second is booking it before your competition does. Solar eclipses can attract from thousands to hundreds of thousands of viewers, which can overwhelm the capacity of local transport and accommodation. If the eclipse is crossing a well-resourced tourist area (like the 2012 eclipe visible from Cairns, a tourist city in Australia), you should ideally book several months in advance but there may be some availability close to the eclipse. If the eclipse is off the beaten track, you may need to make arrangements a year or more in advance. Expect at least peak season pricing for transport.
Cruise liners often have special itineraries into paths of totality, and this may be a preferable if your willingness to travel off the beaten track is limited. They may also be able to search for a cloud-free viewing area within reasonable limits, an opportunity you are less likely to have on land.
Here is the list of several total, annular and hybrid solar eclipses in near future.
- 2012, November 14 (total). The pathway of totality crosses in far north-eastern Cape York and Kakadu National Park. (NASA interactive eclipse map)
- 2013, May 10 (annular), The pathway crosses parts of central and northern Australia. (NASA interactive eclipse map)
- 2013, November 3 (hybrid). The pathway crosses central Africa. (NASA interactive map)
- 2014, April 29 (annular). Only visible from a small area of land in Antarctica. (NASA interactive map)
- 2015, March 20 (total). The pathway crosses the northern Atlantic between Iceland and the United Kingdom, and is visible from Svalbard. (NASA interactive map)
- View the eclipse directly, by looking at the sun. See Stay Safe: only totality can be observed safely without special precautions!
- View the eclipse through a pinhole camera. Take two sheets of cardboard and make a small hole in one, and shine sunlight through that hole onto the other. The circle cast on the second sheet of cardboard (the equivalent of the retina of an eye or the sensor of a camera) will change its shape as a partial eclipse progresses.
- View the eclipse from the ocean. Coastal areas will often have day cruises available to view the eclipse, this may avoid crowded public areas, and the vessel may be able to avoid local cloud cover. As with transport in general, book early.
- Photograph the eclipse. Beware: solar photography is not safe for camera sensors or film unless the lens is protected from the sun with a solar filter, which can be purchased from astromony shops.
- View the eclipse through a telescope. A solar filter must be over the lens of the telescope.
Never look at the Sun with the unaided eye or with a camera or telescope, not even for second and not even if only 1% of the Sun is visible. This may seriously damage your eye and even make you blind. Always use an approved solar filter either directly over your eyes for unaided viewing, or over the lens of a camera or telescope. Do not rely on any kind of standard filter (like UV filters) designed for ordinary photographic purposes, or on homemade solar filters like exposed film: you must use approved and certified solar filters. Solar glasses for eyes are available cheaply in many places including astronomy shops (look for "CE certified") and filters for cameras and telescopes are available in astronomy shops.
As the moon fully obscures the sun during total eclipses it becomes safe to look without a filter and see the beautiful corona (the sun's atmosphere).