Total Solar Eclipse and 8 Second Law

Much information has already been published about the upcoming solar eclipse, but I recently ran across one bit of information about eclipse observing that is so significant that I knew I would be very remiss if I didn’t bring it to the attention of my fellow Spartans. That is Sperling’s 8 Second Law. Many eclipse observers have looked back on their experience and found that the eclipse seemed to last only 8 seconds instead of the 2 to 7 minutes that it actually did. The problem is a quirk of the human mind. When you stare at something that doesn’t change, after a while your mind says, “I know this already,” and stops storing new information. The way to avoid this is to not stare at the eclipse for too long. Every few seconds look around and notice other things, the stars and planets that are visible, the way the light on the landscape changes, the behavior of animals, etc. Do this enough and your memory of the event may match the actual length of it, and you will have added more details to it as well.


I’ve read that it is possible to see the moon’s shadow approaching just before totality. I’m intrigued by that and plan to make an effort to see it.


I know some of you are probably wondering if I will be making pictures of the eclipse. The answer is no. The fast shutter speeds that I use to overcome the trembling in my hands would not work under the dark conditions of an eclipse. Slower shutter speeds would require the use of a tripod, and I’m not going to give up precious totality time to fool with a camera. This eclipse will not only be the most observed in history, it will also be the most photographed. I will enjoy seeing the works of others who are much better at that type of imaging than I am.


One source of eclipse observing tips is linked to here.


I hope that as many of you as possible get to see this wonderful event. May you have clear skies and pleasant weather.


And by the way, the photo that heads this post is of the March 1970 total eclipse that was visible along much of the eastern United States. It’s the only total eclipse I’ve ever seen.

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