Although the partial solar eclipse of January 2020 is already behind us, the year still has much in store. Perhaps the most spectacular phenomena to take place in the near future are the total eclipse in July and the annular eclipse in December. But unlike the great American eclipse of 2017, these events will only be visible at very specific locations.
That’s why we’ve put together this solar eclipse guide on how to watch the eclipses of 2020. For enthusiasts, we’ve gathered information on when exactly these solar events will take place, where you should be to get the best view, and how to stay safe during the observation. (If you can’t get to one of the observation locations, consider picking up one of these books on the solar system to satisfy your astronomical appetites.)
The Single Total Solar Eclipse of 2020
The only total solar eclipse of 2020 will take place on July 2, over the South Pacific Ocean, as well as in parts of Argentina and Chile. The eclipse will start at 12:55 P.M. EDT over the Pacific Ocean and will continue on its way to Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
What Will Happen During the Total Solar Eclipse of 2020?
A total eclipse occurs in five different phases, although not all five can be experienced in all areas. In fact, the path of totality is comprised of just a few locations around the world, while the regions near this path are privy only to a partial (not full) eclipse. If, however, you do find yourself in the path of totality and you’re wondering how to watch the eclipse, these are the five stages that you should know about:
#1 – The 1st contact. This is the beginning of the partial eclipse, when the disc of the Moon intersects that of the Sun and gradually covers the latter. At this point, the Sun looks like the Moon has taken a bite from its circular shape.
#2 – The 2nd contact. This is when the total eclipse begins and the Sun is entirely covered by the Moon. Just before totality, observers at the right locations can spot the “diamond ring” effect and “Baily’s beads,” two phenomena that are as spectacular as the eclipse itself.
#3 – The maximum eclipse (or totality). The most impressive moment during an eclipse, the totality is when the Moon has fully covered the Sun’s disc and only the corona remains visible. At this point, darkness takes over the sky and it appears as if night has settled in. Depending on each event, this can last anywhere from seconds to entire minutes. Just as the Moon’s disc begins to move again, observers can once more witness the “diamond ring” effect and “Baily’s beads.”
#4 – The 3rd contact. With the end of the total eclipse, the Sun once again becomes visible from behind the Moon as the latter begins to move away from its disc.
#5 – The 4th contact. This phase marks the end of the partial eclipse, when the Moon’s disc is fully removed and is no longer overlapping the Sun.
Where Will People Be Able to Observe the Totality?
Wondering how you can watch the solar eclipse of 2020? First, you need to know where to be at the right time. This solar event will be special in the sense that it will take place over the Pacific Ocean, rather than on land. Nevertheless, some locations in Argentina and Chile will find themselves in the path of totality, while people in nearby regions will see a partial eclipse.
At 12:25 A.M. EDT, totality will occur for the first time on land, over Oeno Island, in the South Pacific Ocean. Just 1h 15m later, it will make its way over the coast of Chile, in the vicinity of the city La Serena, at 4:39 P.M., local time. Viewers here will have a whole 2 minutes and 18 seconds to watch the eclipse in its 3rd and most impressive phase.
After crossing the Andes Mountains to the southeast, the shadow of the Moon will graze San Juan in Argentina, at 5:40 P.M., local time, where it will linger for only 36 seconds. Locals and tourists in Rio Cuarto, Argentina, will have better luck, with a whole 1 minute and 59 seconds to observe the totality, beginning with 5:41 P.M.
All of the above locations will also be privy to a partial eclipse that will last just over 2 hours in some regions. In addition, the partial eclipse will be visible in Santiago, Chile, where it will begin at 3:21 P.M., local time, in Córdoba and Buenos Aires, Argentina, at 4:32 P.M. and 4:36 P.M., respectively, as well as in Montevideo, Uruguay, from 4:38 P.M. Obscuration (or the degree to which the Moon will cover the Sun) at these locations will range from 92%, in Santiago, to 99.7%, in the case of Buenos Aires.
Tips for an Excellent Experience
Locals in Oeno Island, Chile, or Argentina who find themselves in the path of totality will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the eclipse with minimal effort, but that doesn’t mean that people from other places in the world can’t also participate. For those who want to watch the solar eclipse of 2020 but whose homes are not in the path of totality, it’s important to plan the trip carefully.
The eclipse of 2020 will be longer than that of 2017, with a maximum time that will span over 4 minutes and 33 seconds. However, totality will only last this long at certain coordinates in the Pacific Ocean (and not on land). In other words, if you want to know how to watch the eclipse from the best possible location, you should bear in mind that only observers who will find themselves either on boats or airplanes at those exact coordinates will be able to witness the event for its entire duration.
If, on the other hand, you choose to observe the solar event from land, then you should choose between the locations mentioned above based on what’s realistic for you, as well as the weather forecast. To make the best possible decision, access NASA’s dedicated total eclipse map and follow the red central line that indicates the path of totality. Choose your destination accordingly, but consider that it is far more important to have good weather on the day of the eclipse than to be as close as possible to the red line. It’s best to see a partial eclipse with 99.7% obscuration on a clear sky than a totality covered by clouds.
It is also essential that you bring along the right kind of protective eyewear!
Solar Eclipse Guide: Safe Observation in 2020
No matter how outstanding a total solar eclipse might be, you can never forget to put on protective eyewear before looking straight at the sun. Both for your sake and that of your loved ones, it is essential to use one of the methods described below in order to keep your eyes safe. If you want to know how to watch the eclipse without eclipse glasses, this is where you should start.
Why Do You Need Protective Eyewear?
There are a few factors that come together during a total eclipse and that make it extremely dangerous to look directly at the sun without protection. Even outside of a solar event, it can be damaging to our sight if we stare at the sun, simply because the latter emits too much light for our eyes to handle.
In addition to this, for the duration of the maximum eclipse, the sky becomes dark as night. As we look upwards to the sun, our eyes attempt to adjust to the changes and our pupils dilate to allow more light to come through and help us see in spite of the darkness. The end of the 3rd phase of the eclipse comes abruptly and with no warning, so it is likely that we and our eyes are taken by surprise.
At that moment, without protective eyewear, our dilated pupils take in all of the powerful sunshine emerging from behind the moon. This can cause permanent damage to our retinas and even lead to irreversible blindness. Worse still is the fact that, because we have no nerve endings on our retinas, we experience no pain as this happens. As such, we can permanently damage our sight without even knowing about it until it is too late.
It is possible to learn how to watch the eclipse without glasses, but a different form of protection is still required to keep our eyes safe.
Pre-Made Solar Eclipse Glasses
The easiest way to stay safe during the total eclipse is to buy pre-made eclipse glasses from a reliable manufacturer. These glasses are made with carton paper and special solar filter so they are relatively cheap, as well as very easy to pack for a trip. However, not all eclipse glasses are made the same. Some manufacturers are less trustworthy than others and, when it comes to protective eyewear, safety should be your first priority.
Although you can try to test any pair of eclipse glasses by shining a very bright light in a dark room, the experiment is less than ideal in the absence of specialized equipment. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, make sure that you purchase only ISO 12312-2 internationally certified products. In addition, check the name of the manufacturer against NASA’s list of verified vendors to know for a fact that you are not dealing with a fake certification.
Finally, when you do get your hands on a good pair of eclipse glasses, remember that if any damage should come to the lenses, the glasses are no longer safe to use during the event. Pack the item carefully and bring along a few spare pairs, just in case.
DIY Solar Eclipse Glasses and Pinhole Projectors
Looking to learn how to watch the eclipse without glasses? Perhaps you’re reading this article too late and all the glasses are sold out in your area? Protection is absolutely necessary for any of us to enjoy the greatest solar event of 2020, but you don’t have to use pre-made glasses in order to keep your eyes safe.
One solution is to make your own, DIY eclipse glasses. All you need for this is the print of a suitable frame, a solar filter sheet, some carton paper, and a bit of glue. You can use the print to trace the right shape on the carton, cut out the frame, then measure and cut the lenses out of solar filter sheet, and finally put everything together using glue. If you do choose to go for DIY glasses, though, you must verify that the solar filter sheet you use is ISO certified and that the lenses were not damaged in any way during the assembly.
If you don’t mind not being able to stare directly at the sun, it becomes much easier to find out how to watch the eclipse without glasses. The answer is a homemade pinhole projector that can be crafted with minimal materials and in very little time. In a dedicated video, NASA demonstrates how you can create a pinhole projector using nothing more than an empty cereal box, some aluminum foil, scissors, a pin, and some tape. There are a number of online tutorials that have picked up on this method and that you can follow in order to make your own eclipse viewer.
Just remember that if you decide to use a DIY eclipse viewer, you should not, under any circumstances, look directly at the sun during the eclipse. Instead, you must watch the eclipse as it is projected inside the cereal box by turning your back to the sun and looking inside. The view is not quite as impressive, but it’s a good compromise if glasses are not an option.
Using a Telescope or a Digital Camera
Yet another answer for the question of how to watch the solar eclipse without glasses is the solar telescope. Even if you use an astronomical telescope, however, you still need some kind of protective filter to ensure your safety and that of your equipment. Otherwise, the sun will likely burn through both your retina and parts of the observation apparatus.
The same goes for those who wish to immortalize the event with the help of a digital camera. To protect your eyes and obtain some fantastic shots, you need a special solar filter that fits the measurements of your device. For both telescopes and cameras, you can opt to purchase a large solar filter sheet, cut out an appropriate shape, and secure it onto the device with tape or you can buy a premade filter with the right dimensions.
In both cases, it is essential to buy only ISO certified products and to ensure that the filter is tightly secured onto the device. The last thing you want is for the filter to fall off in the middle of the eclipse, when your eyes are most focused on the sun.
The “Ring of Fire” Annular Eclipse of 2020
If you can’t make it to the total solar eclipse of 2020, don’t worry. The year has another fantastic event in store for December 26, when an annular eclipse will occur over parts of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, Guam, the Philippines, and other locations in Australia, Asia, and Africa.
What Is an Annular Eclipse?
An annular eclipse is very similar to a totality. The word “annular” essentially means circular (from the Latin “annulus” or ring) and it refers to the way the Sun looks during this event. For an annular eclipse, the Moon moves across the Sun like in the case of a totality, but because the former is further than usual from the Earth, it actually doesn’t cover the sun completely.
Instead, at the moment of maximum eclipse or annularity, the outer edges of the Sun are visible in what appears to be a “ring of fire” – hence the name. The five stages of the annular eclipse are the same as those of a total eclipse, with the 3rd stage being observable only in certain locations.
An annular eclipse is, in fact, quite rare, because it requires a number of conditions to be fulfilled at the same time. For one, this is technically a total eclipse, an event that is rare in and of itself. Secondly, the Moon must be near the furthest point from our planet, a position that is referred to as an apogee. Otherwise, its disc covers that of the Sun completely and observers in the path of the umbra experience a total, rather than annular eclipse.
Where Can the “Ring of Fire” Be Observed?
Skywatchers will first be able to observe the annular eclipse of 2020 just 137 miles northeast of the city of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, where it will begin at 6:34 A.M, local time. Here, the annularity will last for a full 2 minutes and 59 seconds, before moving towards Mangalore, in India.
In India, the partial eclipse will become visible at 8:04 A.M., local time, in Mangalore, while the annularity will begin at 9:24 A.M. and will end 1 minute and 49 seconds later. The umbra of the moon will then continue through Jaffna, Sri Lanka (beginning at 9:33 A.M., local time, for 3 minutes and 8 seconds); Singapore (1:22 P.M., 1 minute and 58 seconds); and Sarangani, Philippines (2:29 P.M., 2 minutes and 25 seconds). The last place on Earth where the annularity will be visible is Guam, where the partial eclipse will start at 3:33 P.M., local time, and the maximum eclipse or 3rd phase will start at 4:54 P.M. and last for a total of 3 minutes and 4 seconds.
Looking to find out more about how to watch the solar eclipse on December 26? Consult the dedicated NASA map in order to find all the locations in the path of the annularity. Remember that, if you decide to travel for this solar event, you should choose a region where weather forecasts are favorable.
What Kind of Protection Do You Need During the Annular Eclipse?
Just like in the case of a total solar eclipse, protective eyewear is an absolute must for anyone hoping to watch the annularity in December, 2020. In fact, if the moment of totality (the exact moment when the Sun is fully covered by the Moon) is theoretically safe for observation without eclipse glasses, this is not at all the case during annularity.
With annular solar events, the Sun is always visible, even at the moment of maximum eclipse. It is therefore imperative that you wear glasses or use a pinhole projector for your own safety. As such, if you’re wondering how to watch the eclipse without glasses in December, 2020, the answer is – don’t. Do not, under any circumstances, look straight at the Sun without protective eyewear during this event.
2020 Solar Eclipses: Checklist and Takeaway
Two major solar eclipses remain in 2020, as follows:
- The total eclipse on July 2, 2020 will mainly take place over the Southern Pacific Ocean, but will also be observed in parts of Chile and Argentina.
- The annular eclipse on December 26, 2020 will be visible across locations in Asia, Australia, and Africa.
To safely observe either of the two phenomena, you will need one of the following:
- Pre-made, ISO certified eclipse glasses.
- DIY eclipse glasses with solar filter sheet.
- A pinhole projector (or DIY eclipse viewer).
- A telescope or digital camera solar filter.
- A solar filter for binoculars.
It is absolutely imperative that you protect your eyes during both the total and annular eclipses. Once you’ve packed your protective eyewear, make sure to double-check the weather forecast in the region where you intend to travel in order to view the event.
That’s it! Now you know how to watch solar events in July and in December 2020. Enjoy the memorable experience and don’t forget to put on your glasses.