10
$\begingroup$

I read that it might be possible but I am wondering can I actually see small flames jetting from the surface around the circumference of the eclipse assuming they are active at the time? There is a total solar eclipse in 2024 that I will be able to see.

I have binoculars and since I will have about a minute of total coverage would the binoculars add any value and would they be safe?

$\endgroup$
13
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ The usual advice is to "experience the moment". And having telescopes, cameras, or binoculars will detract from that. You are likely to spend your precious minute of totality thinking about your binoculars and not the spectacle. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 20:35
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The odds of there being one big enough to be naked eye visible, bright enough to distinguish from the corona, and in the right spot, are very slim. If there is one, you'll probably hear about it. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 21:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Also, as the prominences I saw in my photos were very near the edge of the sun itself, it would have been very dangerous to try to view them with the naked eye, particularly under magnification, since the exposed sun would have to have been very close to coming out from behind the moon in order for the prominences to be visible at all. Also, they were much dimmer than the sun's disk and would generally have been drowned out by the sun's light if even part of the sun's disk were visible. $\endgroup$
    – Some Guy
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Do not ever look at a solar eclipse with the naked eye. Much less with binoculars. You need protection. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:56
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @jcaron Not during totality. At every other time you do, though. And, of course, if you're looking at it with the naked eye during totality, you need to know when the totality is going to end and pay attention to that so that you're not still looking at it when totality ends. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 16:32

4 Answers 4

20
$\begingroup$

If by 'solar flare' you mean a coronal mass ejection, then yes, in theory you could see one during a total eclipse if there happened to be one that was at approximately 90 degrees to Earth at the time of the eclipse. You might have a hard time distinguishing it from the rest of the corona depending on the exact geometry, but if there's one there in the right position, you'll probably see it as an extension or bulb in the corona.

Using binoculars or telescopes during an eclipse is a risk. It's very dangerous to look towards the sun with any sort of magnifying device. While you could possibly see more detail in the corona and technically wouldn't be in danger of eye damage during totality, viewing any part of the sun's surface through binoculars or a telescope could cause permanent damage, and you could easily lose track of how long you have left. I personally wouldn't risk it -- the naked eye view is spectacular enough that you won't miss your lenses. I'll leave it to the professionals to get magnified photos of totality.

Note that you can put a solar filter on a magnifying device (on the SUN POINTING end, not the eyepiece!), but that's for viewing the unobstructed surface and would make the corona invisible during totality.

$\endgroup$
10
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the warning on the Binoculars. I will be sure to leave them in the drawer and do what everybody says. Enjoy the view and don't focus on anyone thing. $\endgroup$
    – Sedumjoy
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 1:19
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Sedumjoy Even without binoculars, looking at the Sun without protection is dangerous. You need (good quality) glasses to protect your sight. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse#Viewing $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 10:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "I'll leave it to the professionals to get magnified photos of totality." or use any indirect form of picture production, eg looking at a camera's screen (NOT an SLR camera's seeker!) would be safe (for your eyes, don't know about the cams sensor) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 11:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sedumjoy I would 2nd the just enjoy the experience comments - I was in the path of totality for the '99 eclipse. It was cloudy. But it was still very memorable, on top of a hill with a whole bunch of people - I can't imagine what it would have been like if the weather was different. There will be plenty of imagery of the event from others. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 12:40
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Sedumjoy The unmagnified sun is not harmful in small doses -- like, no, obviously don't stare into the sun to try to see the growing "bite", but looking at totality unprotected and then looking away when you get a bright flash of the edge reappearing is not going to hurt anything, any more than glancing up on a bright day is risking your eyesight. You do want to be careful because you won't have the flinch reflex from the full sun. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:47
11
$\begingroup$

There are flares and then there are prominences These are rather different things.

A solar flare is a sudden release of energy from the surface of the sun (including a lot of X-rays). A prominence is a magnetic loop of plasma extending out from the surface of the sun.

You couldn't see a flare during an eclipse, as these would be hidden by the moon. Prominences can sometimes be visible, and were observed in pre-telecopic observations, such as from the 12th century, in which a monk describes "flame-like tongues of live embers" surrounding the sun. They are not always visible, and would always be hard to see.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I didn't realize this. I have a link you might enjoy from 1919 solar eclipse that verified special relativity.. Here is the link.eso.org/public/images/potw1926a $\endgroup$
    – Sedumjoy
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 13:31
6
$\begingroup$

Although rare, it is possible to see solar prominences with the naked eye during a total solar eclipse. The most recent was in 1991 when two very large prominences were visible to the naked eye during the total eclipse which was visible in Baja California and on the Island of Hawaii (aka the Big Island). Note that because of the distance and small apparent size, to the naked eye the prominences looked like small crimson colored smudges on the edge of the Sun, not like the "flames" that you see in astronomical photos. During most eclipses however the prominences are much smaller and would not be visible with the naked eye, although possibly with binoculars.

Below is the only copyright-free photo of the 1991 eclipse that I could find that shows the prominences. Some better views of the 1991 eclipse can be seen on the Mr. Eclipse website and on the MMV project website.

1991 eclipse
1991 Total Solar Eclipse (photo: Werner Raffetseder, via: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The prominences visible in a more typical total solar eclipse can be seen in a photo of the 2015 eclipse on the London Natural History Museum website.

Flare vs. Prominence

As mentioned in another answer, a solar flare will not be visible to the naked eye. In fact it would probably not be visible even with binoculars or telescopes unless using special filters. As described in Britannica:

The most spectacular phenomenon related to sunspot activity is the solar flare, which is an abrupt release of magnetic energy from the sunspot region. Despite the great energy involved, most flares are almost invisible in ordinary light because the energy release takes place in the transparent atmosphere, and only the photosphere, which relatively little energy reaches, can be seen in visible light. Flares are best seen in the Hα line, where the brightness may be 10 times that of the surrounding chromosphere, or 3 times that of the surrounding continuum.

Prominences on the other hand can be visible during a total eclipse:

As with the chromosphere, prominences are transparent in white light and, except during total eclipses, must be viewed in Hα. At eclipse the red Hα line lends a beautiful pink to the prominences visible at totality.

Binoculars

It is safe to look at a total eclipse with binoculars, just as it is safe to take pictures with a telephoto lens which many people do, but only DURING TOTALITY. As mentioned in some of the comments there is a risk if you are not very careful. First of all you must be in the path of totality. Being in an area that will experience 98% or even 99% totality is not the same thing. It's sort of like being somewhat pregnant, you are either in totality or you are not. Anyone who has been in the path of totality for a total solar eclipse knows what I am talking about. If someone lives in one of the areas that will experience near totality, they should make every effort to travel the 100-200 miles or whatever it takes to get into the path of totality, otherwise they will miss the experience of a lifetime.

Even for the last few seconds before totality the tiny piece of Sun that is still visible is very bright, and can be damaging to the naked eye. The problem is that the volume of light reaching your eye at that time is much lower than normal, and so you will not feel any pain and will likely not have the reflex to look away. Even though the sky and surrounding area is getting dark, as long as even a tiny sliver of sunlight appears you must continue to only look at the Sun through eclipse glasses.

Eclipse glasses

Note that it's a good idea to purchase eclipse glasses a few months before a total eclipse as they will begin to sell out as it gets closer. Welders glass can also be used, but it must be at least shade 14 which is generally not available in a typical hardware store.

Once totality starts it is safe to look at the Sun with the naked eye, binoculars, telephoto lens, etc. In North America totality will last four and a half minutes, although that is only in the center of the track, it can be less if you are further from center. The important thing for safety is to only look with binoculars, etc. during the first part of totality, since your sense of time will be somewhat distorted. My personal experience is that time seems to come to a standstill. So plan to spend maybe 30 seconds or so looking with binoculars, which should be plenty of time to observe any detail. For added safety you can set a timer to go off about a minute before totality ends. But realistically you will probably quickly realize that the naked eye view is much more impressive. Just remember that once you put your binoculars and/or camera down, don't pick them up again for the duration of the eclipse.

Also remember that the moment at the end of totality when the first tiny piece of Sun appears you should immediately begin using your eclipse glasses, as again even that tiny piece of light can be very damaging to your eyes if you stare at it. Some people don't trust their self-discipline to look away when the Sun reappears, and so they put on their eclipse glasses during the last minute of totality. There is nothing wrong with that approach either as it would be the absolute safest.

My personal opinion, having seen a total eclipse, is to forgot binoculars, cameras, etc. and just take it all in. Or plan to use those items only for the first 30 seconds or so, and then put them down and enjoy the spectacle.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice complete answer $\endgroup$
    – antlersoft
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 16:18
-1
$\begingroup$

I've only seen two total solar eclipses, in 1991 and 2017. Both had prominences very visible with naked eye. Heed all the safety warnings mentioned here, but I do recommend having binoculars handy to get a quick peek. But also heed the advice to just take it all in. If you are in North America (only place the 2024 eclipse will be visible) you should be able to get more than 1 minute by getting close to the center line. Google maps has a nice interactive map. Good luck!

$\endgroup$
3
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ NEVER use binoculars to watch a solar eclips! You must at least put an especially created filter on it in order to destroy your eyes! (No experimenting with coffee or other filters, I mean!) $\endgroup$
    – Dominique
    Commented Jan 22 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Good practice to always be safe. I think you mean to say "not to" instead of "to" in your comment? I think maybe a typo. I will have 3 min ot totality over the part of Ohio where I live. $\endgroup$
    – Sedumjoy
    Commented Jan 23 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with Dominique, but do agree that one should be exceedingly careful. A good practice would be to set a timer on your phone or watch to let you know when the end is getting close. I would not use binos within 30 seconds to a minute of the end of totality, but do look for prominences, and detail in the Corona. 3 minutes, or 4 if you are better located, gives plenty of safe time to view these details for a few seconds. A safer practice would be to watch where there is a large crowd of dedicated eclipse watchers. There will be folks with large telescopes with the proper filters. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23 at 19:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .