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The Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse Is Totally Stressing Me Out

I’m suffering from an acute case of solar eclipse anxiety; maybe you can relate. The promise of this historic celestial spectacle, an event I’ve been looking forward to for years, has begun to fill me with dread. Let me explain.

I started to get a sense of my eclipse stress a few weeks ago, when I had a very strange dream. In this dream, at the moment of totality when the Moon fully obscured the Sun, I found myself more focused on scrolling through my social media than managing my imaging equipment. The realization hit too late, leaving me with instant regret. Such a stupid dream—as if I’d prioritize my Instagram feed over a total solar eclipse, but my subconscious was clearly trying to tell me something.

That “something” is that something might go wrong. Several years ago, for example, a good friend of mine—an experienced astrophotographer—drove hundreds of miles to capture the 2017 solar eclipse. When the Big Moment arrived, he was horrified to discover that he had forgotten to insert the memory card into his camera. What’s that old saying about the best-laid plans?

High stakes

I’ve been looking forward to this eclipse for years, and for good reason. Nothing like this will be seen in North America until 2045, and in Canada, where I live, not until 2079. The April 8 solar eclipse follows along an incredibly fortuitous path, beginning in Mexico and sweeping across much of North America. Its trajectory will extend from Texas and pass through states to the northeast, reaching into several Canadian provinces.

Related: Your Definitive Guide to the 2024 Great North American Solar Eclipse

The path of totality is a short drive from where I live, and I’ve got big plans to photograph the event. I’m nagged by the fear that the stress of managing traffic, coordinating with friends, and the pressure of getting the perfect shot might overwhelm me, potentially spoiling my enjoyment of this rare spectacle. And I’m sure many of you are feeling the same way, whether for these or other reasons.

Navigating traffic, territory, and team

Upwards of 31 million people live along the path of totality, allowing them to witness this astronomical phenomenon firsthand. Millions more from surrounding regions are expected to flock to viewing areas, clogging roads and undoubtedly causing traffic issues across a good portion of the continent.

The path of totality for the 2024 total solar eclipse.
Graphic: NASA

I will be one of these people, as I drive from my home near Toronto to the Niagara region, aiming to position myself as close to the center of the path of totality as I can (the closer you are to the center of the path, the longer the period of totality). The connecting highway, known as the QEW, is rammed at the best of times, and I can only imagine what it’s going to look like on April 8. The drive back will be particularly heinous, with everyone heading home at the same time—and during rush hour—once the spectacle is over. It has the makings of a very long day, especially given my plan to leave early to stake out a good spot and avoid some incoming traffic.

I’m still unsure where we’re going to set up for the eclipse, as each member of my group has their own idea of what a “good spot” entails. We’ve tossed around a bunch of ideas, including a Walmart parking lot (with bathrooms and food nearby), one of several beaches along the northern shore of lake Erie (ugh, parking), a random field in the middle of nowhere (blech), among others. Each option has its own pluses and minuses, but based on our initial discussions, it’s clear that not everyone will be happy with our chosen location.

The money shot

Logistics aside, the looming technological challenges of capturing the eclipse are a monumental concern for me and my biggest point of stress. My gear is ready to go: a pair of robotic telescopes, each with their own solar filters. It recently dawned on me, however, that during the moment of totality, the view will plunge into darkness as a result of the solar filters. To capture the stunning view of the Sun’s corona and any prominences that might be visible, I’ll need to remove the solar filters, shut down auto-tracking mode, and manually adjust the gain and exposure.

I’ll have roughly three minutes to do this at my location. For seasoned astrophotographers, this might seem trivial, but I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to this stuff, so I’m understandably nervous. I’m going to practice this beforehand, but there’s only so much I can do to fully replicate the unique conditions of an actual eclipse.

Existential awe

Which brings me to my final concern: my ability to enjoy the eclipse amidst all these distractions. I may choose to use just one telescope, but part of me wants to leave this equipment behind and just bring my eclipse glasses. I mean, it’s not as if images of the eclipse won’t be readily available afterwards. At the same time, I have to remind myself that I got all of this gear for this exact purpose—to document extraordinary celestial events. I’m legitimately torn.

What I need to do from now until April 8 is to take a step back and decide what it is exactly that I’m hoping to get out of this experience. Without question, I want to feel a sense of awe and to be humbled by a rare spectacle that has thrilled humanity as long as we’ve been around. But I also want to take some cool images. Hopefully, when the time comes, I’ll be able to set aside any distractions and achieve the best of both worlds: successfully capturing the event while fully immersing myself in the experience. One thing’s for certain, however, is that the day will be anything but dull, and that I’ll have stories to tell for years to come.

More: Here’s Exactly What Will Happen to Your Eyes If You Stare at the Eclipse Without Protection

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