As a professional astronomer, Sifan Kahale is used to deploying multimillion-dollar telescopes to study celestial happenings with pinpoint accuracy. Her advice for people hoping to view Monday's total solar eclipse is simple — put the camera phone down.
"By the time it's over, it will feel like two seconds," she said. "If you're looking at your phone trying to take a selfie, it's going to be gone."
"To get photos of any of this, you need to be both an amateur astronomer and a good photographer. If you are not, put everything down and just enjoy the moment."
Kahale knows whereof she speaks, having spent more than nine years pondering the heavens in her role as an observer and software engineer with Pan STARRS — the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System located at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii. A project of the University of Hawaii, the telescope is aimed at detecting Near Earth Objects — aka killer asteroids.
But on Monday, Kahale will turn her eyes skyward for a more lighthearted reason, joining the millions across the nation hoping for a good view of "The Great American Eclipse."
The Aug. 21 eclipse will make landfall at Government Point just north of Depoe Bay, before cutting a swath across the continental United States, giving it the potential to become the most-viewed total solar eclipse ever. "If you are in the U.S., you have the chance to be able to witness this," Kahale said. "From that standpoint, it's a big, big thing."
Despite a career spent scouring the skies, this will only be Kahale's second total solar eclipse, the first being the 1954 event that swept across a number of states, including Wisconsin, where she and her family were staying in a rented cabin.
"I remember making a pinhole camera," she said. "All the adults were fascinated. It helped pass the time while waiting for totality to hit."
'Don't chase it'
Kahale said eclipse watchers also should look out for a pinhole camera effect caused when light from the crescent sun passes through gaps in foliage, displaying an image of the eclipse on the ground.
"You can do the same by crisscrossing your fingers," she said.
Animals and birds will get quiet as the eclipse progresses, she said. The temperature will drop, possibly causing a breeze. Then, of course, the stars will come out in the middle of the day.
"There is a strange feeling that comes over you," she said. "It feels almost electrical. The hairs on your arms stand up."
So, to the big question: What if it's cloudy?
Kahale said that even if the day is overcast, eclipse watchers will still get to experience some of the effects — the drop in temperature, the breeze, animals behaving differently, that "electric" feeling. She cautions against taking to the road in search of better conditions on the morning of the eclipse.
"Don't go chasing it down Highway 18," she said. "It will be a parking lot."
Instead, she said, pick a spot in advance; preferably somewhere that doesn't require driving and be sure to wear eclipse-viewing glasses whenever the sun's light is visible.
"Just be present and notice yourself and your surroundings," she said. "Not just what's happening above your head, but everything around you as well."
Synchronize your watch
The solar eclipse will begin at 9:04 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 21, with the moon covering the sun at 10:15 a.m. Professional astronomer Sifan Kahale recommends www.countdowntoeclipse.net, a website maintained by local astronomer Kay Wyatt, as a resource for tools to help find the perfect spot as well as activities to entertain kids for the 2.5-hour event.
Checklist: What to look for
If skies are clear on the morning of Aug. 21, eclipse watchers within the path of totality should see almost two full minutes of darkness as the moon covers the sun.
And for anyone thinking, "So what? It gets dark every night," Kahale has a checklist of celestial phenomena that only appear during an eclipse. See how many you can spot.
n Sharpening shadows — As the moon moves in front of the sun, the source of the remaining sunlight narrows, leading to sharper, deeper shadows, as if someone turned up the contrast on a TV.
• Shadow bands — At around the same time, keep an eye on the ground for wavy shadows that some observers have compared to hundreds of snakes. Kahale said the current scientific thinking is that these shadows are the result of waves in the upper atmosphere being exposed to the more direct light from the crescent sun.
• Diamond ring — Often seen just before the moon completely covers the sun and just after; it appears like a semicircular band of light topped with a jewel-like beacon.
• Bailey's beads — Keep your eyes peeled in the moments immediately before and after the moon completely covers the sun. You might just catch a glimpse of this fleeting effect, caused by the sun's rays streaming through valleys on the moon's surface.
• The corona — Once the sun is completely covered, viewers should be able to see the solar outer atmosphere, normally rendered invisible by the sun's brilliance. The pearly white corona extends out three times the diameter of the sun.