This is part two in what I think will be a three-part series about the total solar eclipse that will make its way across the continental US on August 21, 2017. This one might seem like I’m lecturing a bit. You’ll see why.
Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Thursday! It’s a big day for space travel fans. As you might remember, 48 years ago today, July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong hopped off the ladder at Tranquility Base and became the first person ever to walk on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin followed a little while later. I wasn’t born until after the Apollo program ended, but I always get a little nostalgic around this time each year, even on the off years, like this one. It’s amazing to look up at the Moon, think of all the people and all their hard work, and be able say “We’ve been there.” Anyhow, that’s enough for now.
I wanted to spend a little time today talking about something to do with next month’s solar eclipse. By now you’re maybe seeing a lot, so I’ll try to throw my writin’ hat into the writin’ ring about it.
This is a pretty important one, though, so I want to get it out before it’s too late. As everyone’s talking about, there’s going to be this eclipse, a good and fancy one, too, on August 21. What this means, among all of the other great things you’ve read about, is that lots and lots of people will be staring straight at the Sun on a bright summer day. Totality or not, staring at the Sun is generally thought of as a bad idea. You can damage your eyes, permanently. So, if you’re planning to try to see even some of the eclipse, it’s important to be safe and protect your eyes.
Part of the danger here isn’t merely staring at the Sun. That’s certainly dangerous, but on top of the obvious “bright light!!” part, the Sun pumps out a lot of ultraviolet (UV) light, which is invisible to humans. This is the same part of the Sun’s energy that causes sunburn. So, staring directly at it will be a real problem for your retinas.
This is all for people watching… well, “naked eye” isn’t really the right term in this case, but let’s say “without magnification.” If you plan to use any binoculars or telescopes at all, you need additionally powerful filters. I’m not experienced enough with magnification, so I won’t give any instructions for that, but there is one exception, which I’ll list below. If you know your way around big-lens safety, let me know, comment, whatever it is. We’ll do the reblogging/linking thing.
The only time it’s safe to look at the eclipse without eye protection is during the period of totality. It is never safe otherwise. Here are some ways you can safely watch the eclipse, whether you’re going to see the total eclipse, or the partial eclipse. Remember, your eyes are your eyes, and your responsibility. This is serious business, and I’m not responsible if you wind up getting injured watching. Be smart, be safe, and have a great time.
- Use eclipse glasses. These are glasses with very dark, heavy UV filters as lenses that can be used to safely look at the Sun. These are not sunglasses. Sunglasses aren’t strong enough, and don’t block enough UV light to protect you properly. Film negatives are also a no-go. With a pair of eclipse glasses, you can watch the Moon as it moves across and covers the Sun. The best eclipse glasses are made by Rainbow Symphony and American Paper Optics, and are sold in packs, so they’re good for sharing. After the eclipse is over, you can use them to hunt down sunspots and just enjoy looking at the nearest star to Earth. These are safe to use over your eyes, but do not use them over any kind of magnification.
- Use a pinhole. Take a sheet of heavy paper, construction paper or card stock, say, and poke a hole in it with a pin. Now, with your back to the Sun, move the pinhole card closer and father from the sidewalk, a wall, or another card until you see a well-focused image of the Sun. You’ll be able to see the Moon slowly creep across the Sun. At totality, just turn around and look.
- Use a colander. This is the same idea as the pinhole, but instead of seeing one image of the Sun and Moon, you’ll see dozens. Just stand with your back to the Sun, take your pasta strainer — the kind that’s a big metal bowl with holes punched in it, not the kind that’s just a fine mesh — and use it to project the eclipse onto another surface. I did this many years ago with a partial eclipse, and it was a really neat thing to see.
- Use binoculars or a telescope as a projector. This is the exception about the magnification I mentioned above. It’s the same idea with the pinhole and colander. Just stand with your back to the Sun and use your binoculars or telescope to project an image of the eclipse onto another surface. DO NOT LOOK THROUGH THE BINOCULARS OR TELESCOPE. Look at the projected image.
A bonus: If you’re in a leafy area, sometimes small images of the eclipse will be projected through the gaps and holes in the leaves onto the ground below, similar to the colander method.
I hope you’ll have a look and have good luck seeing the eclipse wherever you are, whether it’s partial or total. Be safe, and clear skies, everyone!