BrianSchmidt A total solar eclipse is one of the most dramatic astronomical events you can experience. I was lucky enough to see one when I was 12, when the Sun and Moon aligned over my childhood home, providing me with one of the most amazing experience of my life. Even if you are not lucky enough to be in this year’s path of totality, grab the opportunity to learn what it is all about, and how to observe the partial eclipse safely.


Professor Brian Schmidt
Astronomer at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University.
2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics.


JayPasachoff A total solar eclipse can be an inspiring, even life-changing, event. Tycho Brahe in the 16th century was not the only one to have his life path turned toward astronomy by being dazzled by a solar eclipse. People of all ages, and especially students of all grades, should be encouraged to see the eclipse outdoors and with their own eyes, which is much more impressive than any image on a TV screen. The rules of safety are so simple that they are easy to follow: never look at the Sun directly without filtering EXCEPT during the total phase of a total solar eclipse. So if you are in the path of totality, you will have up to two minutes of being able to stare skyward and see the beautiful phenomena that come out during totality. Otherwise, through the rest of Australia all the time, and before and after totality in far north Queensland, you need to use eye protection or to view a projected image, since part of the everyday Sun will be visible.


The whole set of phenomena of a total eclipse are so spectacular that they should be experienced outdoors, and are well worth travelling even thousands of miles to see. The gradual darkening of the sky over an hour, accelerating in the 10 minutes or so before totality, cannot be readily duplicated in any other way. Note also that totality dims the Sun by a factor of about a million, leaving only the faint light of the Sun’s corona to shine at us. So even a “90% eclipse” is brighter than the corona by a factor of 100,000–meaning that a 90% eclipse is 100,000 times worse than a total eclipse, and isn’t spectacular. It’s like going to the Sydney Opera House’s box office and saying that you’ve gone to the opera. It may be literally true, and you had a pretty view, but you haven’t heard the singers at all or seen the main show.


I know lots of people from all over the world who will be coming to the Queensland coast for the eclipse, anticipating great things. I hope people from all over Australia join us there for the wonderful event scheduled for November 14 this year.


Professor Jay M. Pasachoff
Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College;
Chair, International Astronomical Union Working Group on Eclipses;
Vice Chair, Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society; and a veteran of 55 solar eclipses.