Solar Eclipse – Watching It Safely
On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will occur in the United States, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. It is known as the Great American Eclipse, as it will be the first total solar eclipse restricted to the United States since the country was founded in 1776. And it is the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918. This will be a fantastic celestial event that everyone should experience.
Even here in North Carolina, we will experience a solar phenomenon never before seen by many residents. The moon will move into a position between the earth and the sun blocking the light of the sun from the earth for a period of time during mid-afternoon on August 21st. Daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun’s corona gleams in the darkened sky as the Sun, Moon, and Earth line up to reveal the Sun’s atmosphere, it’s corona. Bright stars and planets will become visible as well. Eclipses on Earth occur only because of this rare celestial alignment.
Our part of N.C. will not be the recipient of a Total Solar Eclipse, but we will be able to see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk -about 95% of the Total Eclipse.
A solar eclipse is one of the most exciting planetary events we can experience, but it is vitally important that we do so safely. Looking directly at the Sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the Moon entirely blocks the Sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality. Anyone who plans to view any part of the eclipse needs to be aware of the serious damage they can do to their eyes. The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed Sun is through special purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers.
These glasses are specially filtered to block most of the sun’s light, but still allow enough through to see the eclipse as it is taking place. Eclipse glasses should only be purchased through approved vendors. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the Sun.
Even when only 1 percent of the sun is visible, it is still 10,000 times brighter than the full moon. In fact, a partial eclipse can be more dangerous than full sunlight because you will not instinctually look away, shield your eyes, or squint, and looking at the sun without proper protection can result in eye damage.
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 glancing 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. For more information go to eclipse.aas.org or eclipse2017.nasa.gov.
Lee County Library has been selected to receive thousands of protective eyewear and programming materials for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. This project was funded by Star_Net, Nasa@My Library, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Research Corporation for Science Advancement and Google. Contact the library for programming event information and plan on attending to obtain a free pair of special protective eyewear while supplies last. The library webpage is located at www.leecountync.gov/library . Homeschoolers should contact the library to participate. For more information contact Lee County Library at 919 718-4665.
Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.