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Is a Partial Solar Eclipse Worth Watching?

eclipseI wanted to get to the totality during the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I mapped my closest route, we ordered non-counterfeit glasses, and did a quick hotel search.  Three weeks before the big day, I found one room available… for $1,000.00.

Even with free continental breakfast, I’m a little too Midwestern to drop a grand on a night at a Holiday Inn.  I weighed the pros and cons of driving in, but when our glasses didn’t arrive before we left town for Gen Con, we drove back home to the 85% zone.

I asked Google, “Is an 85% solar eclipse even worth watching?”  The eclipse chasers said not to bother; the barely dimmed sunlight won’t change your life like seeing that beautiful corona with your own eyes.

I disagree, and I’ll tell you why.  But first, what will you need to enjoy an 85% (or more… or less) solar eclipse?

You’ll need:

  • eclipseglasses
    Your eyeballs will thank you!

    Eclipse glasses from a legit source, and ordered nice and early! Get extras for unorganized friends and for yourself, since the paper ones are only good for a few minutes before you lose your staring contest with the sun in a big way.

  • Vacation day from work/school/etc.
  • The luck of a clear day. Check the weather and drive out from under clouds if you can.
  • A team to share the adventure. This may be the most important element, but more on that later.

What you’ll see:

It gets a little dark, like any cloudy day.  As the eclipse progresses, everything goes a bit green.  When you pop your glasses on and look at the sun, a black disc has begun to impose itself over dull orange fire.  It’s straight out of a sci-fi film, but this isn’t CG.  This is real life, Skippy!

I didn’t see the camera obscura effect from the shadows of leaves on trees I saw described online.  We watched the sun grow dim and brighten back up on the back deck, laughing at the news coverage (Carhenge was a highlight) and planning for 2024.

Why it’s great to watch every solar eclipse you can, even if it’s not 100%:

The last solar eclipse I saw was an Annular eclipse in 1994.  I was off school for a dentist appointment and watched it through four plates of my father’s welding glass (don’t do this, by the way… oh 90’s, we just didn’t have enough internet to save us back then).  When the sun went dim, I was reminded of the darkened over-world map at the end of Lunar, a favorite video game at the time.

Watching this partial eclipse more than two decades later, I shared these memories with my mother on the back deck, who also remembered the odd light and the welding glass.  My husband talked about viewing the same eclipse through a pinhole camera with his classmates.  We’d seen the same astronomical event eleven years before we met.

That’s why you should watch, even though it won’t “change your life” like a total eclipse apparently does (we’ll see in 2024, fingers crossed).  More rare and special than any holiday, I think it’s worth it to watch any solar eclipse that crosses your home sky.  You can string these rare memories together, compare them with friends, and wonder where you’ll be when the next one comes around.

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