It’s not going to be your average Monday.
A total solar eclipse hasn’t been visible from the continental U.S. in 38 years, and there hasn’t been a coast-to-coast solar eclipse in North America since 1918. One is about to start traversing the nation on Aug. 21.
A total solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between Earth and the sun. The moon temporarily blocks the sun’s light, except for the sun’s corona, or its outer atmosphere. According to NASA, 14 states are in the “path of totality,” where the eclipse will turn the skies completely dark during daylight hours.
Although this area isn’t an ideal place to witness it — because Pennsylvania’s not in the projected northwest-to-southeast path of totality — it should be possible to notice a partial solar eclipse during the afternoon of the 21st between 1:21 and 4:01. Unless it’s super cloudy that day, it will look like the moon’s taking a bite out of the sun. According to the Franklin Institute, observers in the Philadelphia region can expect close to 79 percent of the sun to be eclipsed.
But don’t be fooled by the reduced sunlight. Kelli Corrado Spangler, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Montgomery County Community College, said in a press release: “Don’t look directly at the sun; you can seriously damage your eyes. You can make a simple pinhole projector, use a telescope with a special filter, or use special solar eclipse glasses that look like 3-D movie glasses, that you can buy online. You can even use welder’s goggles if you happen to have them.”
Harry Augensen, the director of the Widener University Observatory, is heading to Nebraska to get the full total eclipse effect. But before beginning the journey, he emailed this quick and inexpensive trick for indirectly viewing an eclipse: “Simply punch a pinhole in one side of a cardboard box and project the sun’s image onto the other side of the box.”
“I’m hearing this could be the most viewed eclipse in history. I’ve had patients of mine ask about it, so I know people are talking about it,” said Dr. Michael Cusick of the Wyomissing-based Eye Consultants of Pennsylvania. “You’re at risk if you’re not protecting yourself.”
Two eye injuries that can occur from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet and infrared rays are drying out of the cornea and solar retinopathy, he said. Symptoms that don’t show until hours or days later include blurry vision, blind spots, distortion or altered color vision.
Trying to view an eclipse through regular sunglasses, or layered sunshades, is unsafe, even if you’re just trying to take a picture of it. When shopping for solar filters or eclipse glasses, Cusick said to look for the manufacturing certification ISO 12312-2, or No. 14 welder’s glasses. If you’re using binoculars or a telescope, you need a solar filter that fits over the lens. “The key is to put them on before you look at the sun,” he said, adding that he recently spotted special protective glasses at Lowe’s that “looked OK.”
The American Astronomical Society has eclipse glasses available at https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety, and NASA does too at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety. You can also browse the “Learn How to Safely Observe a Solar Eclipse” ideas at www.fi.edu/eclipse, watch the eclipse live at www.fi.edu/summer-of-space/eclipse/eclipselive or follow www.facebook.com/TheFranklinInstitute.
The day of the eclipse, Spangler will be giving a presentation at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn. (Tennessee is one of the path of totality states), where she will give a presentation on what it takes to get good photographs of an eclipse.
Here are some events happening closer to home:
★Getting the party started early will be a free “Super Solar Saturday” 1 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Mann Center, 5201 Parkside Ave., Philadelphia. Highlights include performances by local artists on multiple stages and the Please Touch Museum’s Space Shuttle traveling exhibition. The Mann’s campus will also be transformed into a miniature space theme park with a moon bounce, face painting, “Star Wars” characters, a space maze, a Big Dipper slide, space-related science experiments and more. The day will conclude with a free screening of Golden Globe-winning film “Hidden Figures. Registration is requested by going to www.eventbrite.com/e/super-solar-saturday-family-friends-art-day-tickets-32363633499.
★The Da Vinci Science Center, 3145 Hamilton Boulevard Bypass, Allentown, will be hosting a weekend-long Solar Eclipse Party. A sample of the space-themed family fun for all ages includes Virtual Reality Space Experience, making eclipse pinhole viewers and practice viewing 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 19 and noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 20. Dave Fry will perform sun and moon songs at 1 p.m. Aug. 19. Then from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 21, activities include making eclipse pinhole viewers, safe eclipse viewing and a live stream from NASA from the path of totality. Admission is $14.95 for ages 3 and up. Call (484) 664-1002.
★Chester County Library sponsors an eclipse viewing party 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 21 in Exton Park, 132 Church Farm Lane, Exton. Register at www.chescolibraries.org or call (610) 280-2642.
★Eastern University in Radnor Township is home to the Bradstreet Observatory, which will be open to view the eclipse through protected telescopes starting at 1:30 p.m., weather permitting. It’s at 1300 Eagle Road. Call (610) 341-5945 or email email@example.com.
★From noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 21, the Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, will host a day of activities with science educators, solar programing in the Fels Planetarium and public viewing outside on Winter Street. There will be access to filtered telescopes, Sunspotters, eclipse viewer cards, indirect projectors and large solar filter tents. The Franklin Institute will also be broadcasting a live stream from St. Joseph, Mo., where the museum’s chief astronomer, Derrick Pitts, will give commentary from the path of totality. Franklin Institute educators and Penn grad students will lead you in building pinhole and shoebox viewing projectors, while providing information regarding the science and history of eclipses. Admission is $20, $16 for children 3-11.
★The Nurture Nature Center, 518 Northampton St., Easton, offers a Solar Eclipse Party 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 21. After a “Science on a Sphere” presentation, adjourn to Pine Street at the rear of the building to watch the progress of the eclipse through a telescope using special eclipse viewing glasses. Light refreshments will be provided. See www.facebook.com/nurturenaturecenter.
★The Muhlenberg Community Library, 3612 Kutztown Road, Laureldale, hosts a TED Talk and solar eclipse presentation by Dan Brown from the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 21. Registration is recommended by calling (610) 929-0589.
★The Bucks-Mont Astronomical Association has promised they will be posting eclipse related events to www.bma2.org.
Taking a road trip for the eclipse to one of the path of totality states? Consider that others will be doing the same thing, and that public campgrounds, hotels and Airbnbs will not be automatic to get into if you haven’t already made a reservation. The site www.hipcamp.com/discover offers a list of property landowners offering opportunities to camp, including special experiences, like viewing the eclipse from a vineyard, or in the company of baby animals.
PBS’ “NOVA” premieres “Eclipse Over America” at 9 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21. The program “... investigates the storied history of solar eclipse science, and joins both seasoned and citizen-scientists alike as they don their eclipse glasses, tune their telescopes, and behold the Eclipse Over America,” according to a press release. Check your local TV listings.
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