In 1991 on July 11th I was a nine-year-old enjoying the summer prior to entering the fifth grade. I remember the day before my mom explained to my brothers and I that there was going to be a solar eclipse. Kansas City wouldn’t have much visibility, but as an extra precaution we sat at our kitchen table and made a DIY pinhole viewer with a cardboard box, duct tape, foil, white paper and a thumbtack. We had a ton of fun looking through our homemade contraption but I’m not sure it was all together necessary. I don’t recall seeing very much.
The last time Kansas City experienced full view of a total eclipse was in 1806 but that is all about to change. This year on August 21st a total solar eclipse will span from the Northeast coast of Oregon and travel at Mach 2 over the United States through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina before reaching the Southeast coast of South Carolina.
The news of this summer’s total solar eclipse really got me thinking – did I need to start putting together a pinhole projector? What exactly is a solar eclipse? What is the difference between a total eclipse and an annular eclipse? What happens if I look at it without eye protection? When I read that looking at the eclipse could make me go blind, my first thought was, “Holy sh*t! This is serious business.”
What exactly is a solar eclipse?
It’s simple! It is when the New Moon passes between Earth and the Sun and the Moon blocks Earth’s view of the Sun. Think of it this way, the Earth, Moon and Sun form a straight line.
What is the difference between a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse and an annular solar eclipse?
A total solar eclipse is when the Moon completely covers the Sun and the Sun can no longer be seen from Earth. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon partially covers the sun and an annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon looks smaller than the Sun as it passes across the Sun’s center creating a bright ring in the sky.
What kind of eye protection do I need?
DO NOT look at the eclipse unprotected – you can literally go blind or severely damage your eyes. Sunglasses WILL NOT protect your eyes. If you want to view the eclipse, plan on picking up eclipse glasses or making a DIY viewer at home. To make an at home viewer, Dr. Mark Jacquot from LensCrafters says, “Place a pinhole or small opening in a card, and hold it between the sun and a screen, like a big sheet of white paper, a few feet away. An image of the sun will be seen on the screen”.
If DIYing isn’t your thing, you can opt for eclipse glasses which have a special filter for safe viewing. The glasses must meet an ISO standard so make sure they say, “ISO 12312-2, Filters for Direct Observation of Sun”. This is very important! If you are local be sure to check out Adler Planetarium’s guide for where you can scoop up these special glasses. LensCrafters‘ Dr. Mark Jacquot reminds us, “The upcoming solar eclipse is going to be an amazing spectacle and people are going to want to take the opportunity to see it. However, it’s imperative that they do so safely. Looking directly at the sun, even when it’s partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage. Never look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection.”
Make It Fun!
Chicago’s Adler Planetarium is celebrating the eclipse with a spectacular, free event! Head there with your babes for food, activities and proper eye protection. Visit their site for details.
Photo Credit: Hallie Duesenberg
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