Eclipse 2017: How Your Kids Can Watch Safely

On Monday, August 21st, North America will witness its first full solar eclipse in 38 years. The path of the eclipse will cover much of the United States, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow on to the planet and turning the day sky dark.

While everyone in the moon’s path will be treated to this historic and unique phenomenon, those of us outside of its path (like us up here in New England) will still be able to experience a partial eclipse.

One of the cool things about a full solar eclipse is that when the moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun, the moon will be no brighter than a typical full moon. Unfortunately, for those of use who’ll only be able to experience the partial eclipse won’t have that luxury as the exposed portions of the sun will still be too bright to look at.

Solar Eclipse safety
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

I remember experiencing a partial solar eclipse when I was in elementary school and fortunately, there are safe ways to view the eclipse without frying your eyes.

According to NASA’s Eclipse 2017 website, the only safe way to view a partial eclipse, or any part of the total eclipse prior to its totality, is to use a special pair of “special-purpose solar filters,” and even directs you to the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) website for a list of approved vendors of “Eclipse Glasses.”

As a parent, safety is something that I am always thinking about and, thanks to the historical nature of this event, many unsavory business people are trying to cash in on it by selling bogus eyewear which offers no real protection. So, if you’re interested in viewing the eclipse, please get your glasses from an approved vendor.

Once you have your glasses, here are some tips from NASA’s website on how to use them properly:

  • Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
  • Always supervise children using solar filters.
  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
  • Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
  • Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.
  • If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.
  • Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.
  • If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.

If you can’t afford eyewear, or can’t get it in time, there is an inexpensive DIY method of viewing the eclipse called “Pinhole Projection.” The only thing you need for this is an index card or piece of cardboard with a small pinhole poked through it. During the eclipse, the sunlight will project through the hole onto the ground or other surface and as the moon passes, you’ll see the sun’s crescent shape form right in front of you.

How cool is that?

Why don’t we see a solar eclipse every month?

For more information about the eclipse, make sure to go check out NASA’s Eclipse website at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/

 

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