Eclipses of the Sun Observer Hints by George F. Chambers
Eclipses of the Sun Observer Hints is excerpted from The Story of Eclipses (1899), a popular science book for general readers published in anticipation of the May 28, 1900 solar eclipse.
A few words (they must be few for lack of space) may usefully be added, by way of advice, to persons proposing to choose a suitable locality at which to station themselves for viewing a total eclipse of the Sun. To begin with, of course they ought to get as close as possible to the central line, say within 10 or 20 miles at the most; this matter settled, the next important point is to find out where the duration of the totality will be longest, coupled with the Sun at its maximum elevation above the horizon (to escape the influence of mists and fogs). No advice, properly so-called, can be given on these points, because they depend on the special circumstances of every eclipse, and must be ascertained ad hoc from the Nautical Almanac.
In anticipation of a forthcoming eclipse, it is very important to know beforehand the probabilities of weather. If the locus in quo of an expected eclipse is in a civilised country, there will generally not be much difficulty in obtaining a certain amount of information as to this 6 or 12 months in advance. But inasmuch as total eclipses of the Sun, and often the best of them, are visible only in uncivilised countries or over trackless wastes, the problem becomes a complicated and anxious one. In such cases it is exceedingly desirable, where competent observers (including money) are available, that preliminary notes of weather should be made for a year or even two years in advance. There is in one sense no difficulty as to this, for all the mathematical local elements of every eclipse are always made public three or four years in advance through the pages of books like the Nautical Almanac, the Connaissance des Temps, the Berliner Jahrbuch, &c. One difficulty always confronts every eclipse expedition. If an out-of-the-way part of the world has to be visited, accessible by sea, transport from England, say, to the foreign shore is not usually a matter of difficulty, because Government ships are often placed at the disposal of astronomers. But the gravest difficulties often have to be faced after the arrival at the foreign shore, and for this reason. Every sea coast is, as a general rule applicable to the whole world, bad for astronomical observations. The problem then which has to be solved is, how best to get away from the coast inland to a high hill, and to find the means of transporting thither heavy packing-cases of instruments, personal luggage, creature comforts, and, if needs be, tents and the other accessories of camp life. Let not the reader of either sex take fright at the idea of sleeping under a tent. I speak with considerable experience when I say that, given fine or fairly fine weather, nothing is more enjoyable in a temperate climate. Under the term “creature comforts” I mean such things as tinned soups and preserved provisions which nowadays can so easily be purchased everywhere in England, and of such good quality. I would recommend these being taken even when the eclipse traveller expects to be lodged in the dwelling-places of civilised nations. Of course, if in order to see his eclipse he has to go into the wilds of America, Asia, or Africa, he must start fully equipped with all those personal impedimenta which will be found scheduled in the books mentioned in the footnote.
Footnotes: The Tourists’ Pocket-Book, 1s. (Philip); F. Galton’s Art of Travel, 7s. 6d. (Murray); Royal Geographical Society’s Hints to Travellers, 5s. (R. G. S., Savile Row). &c.