Eclipse followup part 2: tons o' links on how to safely watch

By Phil Plait | May 20, 2012 10:45 am

Today’s the eclipse! I’m excited, though our weather here in Boulder has been fairly touch-and-go the past few weeks. I’m hoping for clear skies so I can see it; I got my eclipse glasses in the mail yesterday, so I’m all set. Locally, CU Boulder is holding a viewing in the football stadium! That’s a pretty nifty idea. As a reminder, the eclipse begins at 20:56 UTC (13:56 Pacific US time) on May 20, and ends at 02:49 UTC May 21 (19:49 on May 20 Pacific time).

I have links in an earlier post on where and when to watch (and yesterday I posted about why the "Supermoon" two weeks ago guarantees today’s eclipse being annular).

Observing the Sun during an eclipse can be tricky, since it’s very bright and can damage your eyes. Wikipedia has an excellent article about this. Something I want to make special note of: during the deepest eclipse, when the Sun is blocked the most, is ironically the most dangerous time to look at it with your unaided eye. Your pupil dilates (opens wide), letting in more light, but the parts of the Sun not blocked by the Moon are still just as intense. That makes it easier to damage your eye, so be very careful.

Of course, you shouldn’t look at the Sun with binoculars or through a telescope! That’ll destroy your eyes — literally — so seriously, it’s not recommended. The only exception is if you have the proper equipment designed specifically to view the Sun. Sky and Telescope’s site has a great rundown of how to observe the eclipse safely, including what equipment you can use.

For more on safe observations, check out Mr. Eclipse’s page, where he has a thorough list of how-tos. The websites io9 and for Astronomy Magazine have some good info, too.

Want an optometrist’s opinion? Here you go. Or you can try some of the tricks listed at The Exploratorium.

If you want to photograph the eclipse, again Mr. Eclipse has great stuff, and this You Tube video demonstrates making a Sun filter for your camera out of a Pop Tart bag! That’s not for your eyes; it’s just for taking pictures (and while some websites say it’s OK for cameras, your mileage may vary — and DO NOT USE THIS for binoculars or telescopes because it does not block enough light to be effective).

The picture here is of the Sun from just this morning, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It’s just to give you a reference of what the unblocked Sun looks like. There are some good-sized sunspots today, so they’ll provide a pretty contract and a nice background to the eclipse. To get a current picture, go to the SDO site and you’ll see it there (click the drop-down menu under the picture and select "HMI Intensitygram" to get the visible light view).

You can watch the eclipse online, too. Sky and Telescope has some info on that, and as I understand it NASA will have some live feeds on their Sun-Earth Connection site. The Japanese space mission Hinode will be watching the eclipse, too.

Finally, if you want a number of people to be able to see this event at the same time, the best way is to project the image of the Sun onto a wall or screen. Here’s a video with a very simple and clever method that I may try myself tomorrow. All you need is foil and a makeup (or other flat) mirror:

Cool! It’s essentially a pinhole camera with a bigger hole but a longer focal length, so you achieve the same results.

I hope everyone has clear skies and good, safe viewing of this wonderful event!

Image credit: NASA/SDO

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: eclipse, solar eclipse

Comments (10)

  1. Blaise Pascal

    The skies are beautiful here. If it weren’t for the mountain to the west of here, I’d try to catch the eclipse in the last 4 minutes before sunset.

  2. littleboots

    I have completed the projector with mirror and tin foil as you described in your video and it works great! Thank you for the information, it will allow my family and I to watch the partial eclipse safely, and I really did not want to miss out on the photo op. Plus they think their mom is pretty crafty!

  3. Or I suppose, one can live on the east coast and not have any inclination to try to look at the sun. :( Man, I can’t wait until 2017 when we get a good one through the entire US.

  4. Thanks for the tips! That mirror trick is clever!

  5. Wzrd1

    LarianLeQuella, I have to wait for well after sunset to see it, as I’m in Pennsylvania and am both out of position to see the eclipse and overcast. :/
    So, like you, I’ll have to wait until 2017.

  6. Tribeca Mike

    That’s really cool, thanks!

  7. Paul A.

    My eclipse viewing was absolutely safe, since here in northern Ohio the eclipse happened just as the sun was setting. My best views of the eclipse were using Stellarium and StarCalc.

  8. Kimball Nilsson

    Wonderful View in Newport Beach California (Southern California).
    Bought a whole bunch of Eclipse Viewers (ordered online) a couple of weeks ago, and passed them all out to friends and family. Everyone was able to share in our hobby.

    My daughter got some nice pics to share.

    BTW.. (Phil) you times for Pacific Time were a wee bit off. eclipse max was at 6:38 pm Pacific Time. (which was just before the fog rolled in)

  9. Kaylen

    My family went to my old elementary school because we had too many trees next to our house. Lucky for us, we stumbled upon an Astronomy club that had all kinds of equipment and let us look through their telescope and binoculars with filters. I even got to see a video feed from their telescope! SO COOL.

  10. Matt B.

    Until the eclipse shades came along, I was planning to shrink my pupils with a flashlight right before looking at the eclipse in 2017. Now I won’t have to! If my order (of 25, the required minimum) arrives in time I’m going to hand out eclipse shades to my friends for the transit of Venus. (All of us forgot to watch the eclipse on Sunday, unfortunately, and I was too far behind on reading BA to set an appointment on my watch or anything.)


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