The last time a total solar eclipse traveled from coast to coast across America in 1918, telephones existed in only a fraction of American homes and involved a switchboard operator to connect calls. In contrast, roughly 77 percent of Americans today carry a smartphone, crammed with features on a scale unimaginable a century ago.
To take full advantage of this dramatic leap in technology between Great American Eclipses, we've compiled a list of helpful apps to assist you on Aug. 21. While you certainly won't need a smartphone to gaze up at the dramatic beauty of a total solar eclipse, these accompanying apps may make the experience that much informative and safer.
Solar Eclipse Timer
Created by an experienced eclipse chaser, the Solar Eclipse Timer is a must-have app for those within the narrow 70-mile wide path of totality. Once locked on to your location using the GPS, the app will vocally begin prompting you of the various stages of the eclipse. For those under totality, the most helpful notifications will be when to keep your solar glasses on and when it's time to safely remove them and look at the sun fully eclipsed. Some of the most common eye injuries associated with eclipse gazing come when people either remove their glasses too soon or fail to put them on ahead of the crucial window.
In addition to the vocal assistance, the app also features a reference video chronicling the various stages of the moon's path across the sun, as well as a wide array of facts associated with the phenomena.
Eclipse Megamovie App
Interested in capturing your own movie of the Great American Eclipse using your smartphone? The Eclipse Megamovie Project, a citizen science collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley, and Google, has released an app that will walk you through the process and automatically snap images and videos during the various stages of the total solar eclipse. This media will then be uploaded to a massive database for scientists to pore over after the event.
"The app is going to do everything for you, so you just need to enjoy the eclipse," Berkeley solar physicist Juan Carlos Martínez Oliveros said in a statement. "The idea is to create a unique new type of dataset that can be studied by scientists for years to come. It’s really an experiment in using crowd-sourcing to do solar science, which will hopefully pave the way for much future work."
If you're going to point your smartphone towards the sun, you'll need to tape a piece of solar filter to the lens before proceeding. Those wanting to capture more detail, however, will want to invest in both a tripod and a telephoto lens with a special eclipse filter. If you're under the path of totality, you can remove the filter during the two minutes or so it's safe to do so to catch the event in all its mysterious glory.
NASA Globe Observer
If you're not planning on using your smartphone to record the eclipse, NASA is hopeful you might at least take advantage of their Globe Observer app to help contribute a few crucial observations. The space agency is eager to understand how total solar eclipses impact temperature and cloud cover and are seeking citizen scientists to document their observations during the event.
"When the Earth goes dark for a few minutes during a total solar eclipse, animals, plants and environmental conditions react. In the path of the eclipse, temperatures and clouds can change quickly," the video narrator explains.
While the biggest swings in temperature will occur for those within totality, NASA is encouraging everyone outside the umbra to also participate.
“No matter where you are in North America, whether it’s cloudy, clear or rainy, NASA wants as many people as possible to help with this citizen science project,” Kristen Weaver, deputy coordinator for the project, said in a statement. “We want to inspire a million eclipse viewers to become eclipse scientists.”
Exploratorium's Total Solar Eclipse App
If you happen to be somewhere other than North America on Aug. 21 or find yourself under cloudy skies, Exploratorium's Total Solar Eclipse app will give you a virtual front-row seat. In addition to live coverage hosted by Exploratorium and NASA scientists, the app will also feature two non-narrated live views of the eclipse from telescopes in Wyoming and Oregon. With weather in both states historically clear on the 21st, there's a good chance at least one of the streams will feature an impeded view of the moon passing the sun.
And for those interested in a little musical accompaniment with their eclipse, the app will also feature a live telescope view set to accompaniment by the acclaimed Kronos Quartet.
Solar Eclipse by Redshift
Those looking for the most advanced simulations of the upcoming eclipse should pick up Redshift's Solar Eclipse app. In addition to showing you how the eclipse will look from your location (or any location of your choosing), the app also features maps plotting eclipses between 1900 and 2100, a timeline of the event's various stages, and up-to-date weather forecasts and temperature data ahead of the big day. If you dare to brave the traffic, the app will also tell you the best viewing site to drive to from your current location.