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How to Watch the Eclipse (and Meteor Showers) Responsibly

Posted by Anna Roth at Aug 15, 2017 02:39 PM |

Whether it's the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 or a meteor shower, learn how to be a responsible star viewer by following these tips, provided by the Department of the Interior.

Whether it's the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 or last week's annual Perseid Meteor Shower, this month is full of celestial events.

Be a responsible star viewer by following these tips.

They're largely geared toward eclipse viewers, since there will be such a heavy crush of traffic in a short amount of time for the eclipse but they're good to keep in mind if you're planning more stargazing or meteor viewing, too.


copper ridge loop_geezerhiker.jpgThe moon sets behind Mount Baker. Photo by geezerhiker.

  • Prepare for traffic: There's going to be a lot of traffic heading to Central Oregon for the solar eclipse. Leave plenty of time to get to where you're hoping to go, carpool if you can and pack your patience.

  • Give yourself plenty of time: No matter if it's an eclipse or a meteor shower, get to where you're going early or reserve a place so you are certain to have a good place to watch the action. 

    If you're daytripping, remember that while the total eclipse lasts only a couple minutes, you'll still need to be somewhere safe to stop and watch it; do not park on the roadside or in meadows.

  • Leave No Trace: Whether you're visiting for a day or camping for a night or two, aim to leave the place better than you found it. Camp only in designated sites, stay on trails and leave the area better than you found it. Bonus points if you pack extra trash out.

  • No fires necessary: August is peak wildfire season, and Washington and Oregon are nearing record high temperatures during sustained weeks of no rain. A small spark can rapidly become a large fire, and burn bans are on in many areas. While they might be tradition, skip the fire this time of year and let the only sparks be the ones twinkling in the sky.

sun lakes dry falls state park_bombeeney.jpgMeteor showers are worth waiting for. This photographer captured falling stars at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. Photo by Bombeeney.

  • Get your maps. The best star viewing is done where there's little light pollution. This can mean access via unmaintained roads, where public land is inter-mingled with private land, so know where you're going.

    Use the hiking guide and your land manager resources (like National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Forest Service offices) for camping and jurisdiction maps. Before you head out, make sure you are familiar with the area you are going to and ensure you have appropriate gear, equipment, and supplies.

  • Protect your eyes: Except during the very short period of totality do not look directly at the sun without approved solar-viewing devices. Most shops in small towns will have these for sale.

  • Protect your camera: The same way the sun will damage your eyes, it can damage your camera. Research how to protect your camera if you plan on photographing or filming the eclipse, and practice removing the filter quickly when the totality occurs.

Fun fact: The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979, and the next total eclipse over the U.S. won’t be visible until April 8, 2024.

From beginning to end, the solar eclipse will last up to 3 hours, but the total eclipse (when the moon completely blocks the sun) will be much shorter.