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how to watch solar eclipse

Watching a total solar eclipse is a rare and memorable experience. However, without the right precautions, it can also be dangerous.

The Sun’s rays are so intense you can feel their warmth from 150 million km away. That’s why looking at the Sun directly, even for a few seconds, can seriously damage your eyes. It allows ultraviolet (UV) light to flood in and burn the light-sensitive cells – causing potentially permanent blurry vision and blind spots.

Watching an eclipse with normal sunglasses provides virtually no protection. In fact, they trick your eyes to let in more light, so they can cause even more damage. But there are three easy ways to view an eclipse safely that can be set up in a few minutes.

Build a pinhole projector

The safest way to view a solar eclipse is to project it onto a piece of paper. Using a cardboard box, you can make a pinhole projector.

You will need:

A long cardboard box, a sheet of white paper, some aluminum foil, a craft knife, scissors, a drawing pin, duct tape and glue. If you can’t find a long box then try taping two smaller boxes together.

Safety measures:

Remember: DO NOT look directly at the Sun without appropriate protection, such as special eclipse glasses. Children should get an adult to help build and use this projector. Take extra care when using sharp tools like craft knifes and scissors.

What will you see?

A bright beam of sunlight will project onto the paper at the far end of the box. This is the Sun’s disc. When an eclipse occurs you’ll see an image of the Moon’s disc sweeping across your projection. The size of the image will be about one hundredth of the length of the box – so the longer the box, the bigger the projected image.

Image source Wikimedia

Using binoculars safely

Pinhole viewers are cheap and easy to make. However, with a bit more time you can get a much better image by projecting the Sun with binoculars. The advantage of this method is that you can watch the eclipse with others as the projected image is much bigger.

You will need:

A pair of large binoculars (a telescope works just as well), a tripod (or another sturdy object you can securely fix the binoculars to), a sheet of white paper, a large piece of cardboard, scissors, some duct tape and some large plain paper or a flip-chart.

Safety measures:

Binoculars and telescopes concentrate sunlight, so never directly look at the Sun with them, as you will permanently damage your eyes. Don’t look directly at the Sun without appropriate protection, such as special eclipse glasses. Keep the binoculars lenses covered until you are ready to use them as this will avoid them getting hot. Children should get an adult to help build and use this projector. Take extra care when using sharp tools like scissors.

What will you see?

As sunlight shines through the binoculars, an image of the Sun will be projected onto your flip-chart. Adjust the distance between the binoculars and the flip-chart until your image is about the size of a small plate. If it’s blurry, focus your binoculars until it becomes sharp. While you wait for the eclipse to happen, look out for dark specks and patterns in your projection – these are sunspots.

Looking directly at the Sun

Watching an eclipse directly is possible – but it’s vital to protect your eyes with the correct equipment.

Never look at the Sun unless you are wearing a pair of special eclipse glasses. Check they meet required safety standards.

Test their condition by putting them on as you’re looking away from the Sun. You shouldn’t be able to see anything. If any light is entering through the glasses, this could mean that they are scratched and won’t provide the right protection. When you’re satisfied the glasses aren’t damaged, turn to look at the Sun. This should be the only thing you can see – a big, orange globe surrounded by a black sky.

Don’t look at the Sun through a pair of binoculars or a camera, as they will concentrate the Sun’s powerful rays into your eye. If you want to use equipment like this, you need a professional solar filter that fits tightly onto the front lenses.

The US is preparing for the spectacular sight of a total solar eclipse.

The Moon is set to pass in front of the Sun, casting a deep shadow that will sweep over the US from Oregon in the west to South Carolina in the east.

It is the first such event since 1918 where the path of darkness crosses both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

It is also the first total solar eclipse to make landfall exclusively in the US since independence in 1776.

People lucky enough to be directly in the path of deepest shadow (“totality”) – and blessed with a clear sky – will witness the Sun’s light blocked out for up to two minutes and 40 seconds.

Those who stand off to the side will experience a partial eclipse, which on this occasion will encompass all of North America and northern parts of South America.

There are even parts of Western Europe that will snatch a sight of the Moon’s disc taking a bite out of the Sun just as it sets.

Image source Wikipedia

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Many commentators believe August 21 eclipse will prove to be the most observed, most photographed, and best documented such event in human history.

It will certainly challenge the numbers that saw the 2009 eclipse that swept across India and China.

More than 12 million people live in the 70 mile-wide path of totality. Nearly four times that many live within a two-hour’s drive, and over 200 million live within a day’s drive.

State and local authorities have been preparing for August 21 as if they were about to confront the fallout from some natural disaster.

Carbondale in Illinois has billed itself as the “Eclipse Crossroads of America” because it is in the path of darkness both on August 21 and when the next US eclipse occurs in 2024.

Given this status, Carbondale authorities anticipate a huge influx of visitors. Its regular population numbers 26,000 people, but for August 21 more than 60,000 extra car parking spaces have been organized.

It is not just urban settlements that will be stretched; the National Park Service has been bringing truck loads of portable toilets on to its lands.

Many skywatchers will be waiting until as late as possible before deciding where to go, based on up-to-date weather forecasts. Many of those who planned ahead will have consulted historical weather data.

This information suggests the highest probability of clear skies will be in the northwest. Madras in Oregon is a favorite.

The time of year and its position leeward of the Cascade Mountains mean it would expect a more than 70% chance of an unobstructed view of the eclipse. In contrast, the further east along the path of totality, the higher the historical probability of cloud.

The “eclipse show” for land-dwellers begins on the Oregon coast at 09:05 local time when skywatchers will see the Moon start to traverse the Sun. Totality is reached at 10:16 and, assuming none of the region’s famous coastal fogs are in attendance, people will get one minute and 59 seconds of full darkness.

The Moon’s shadow then races across the continent through 13 more states (less than two square kilometers of the extreme southwest of Iowa is in the path) – a journey that will take roughly 90 minutes.

The place that will experience the longest period of totality (2 minutes and 40 seconds) is about 6 miles south of Carbondale, Illinois.

The last region in the path of deepest shadow is South Carolina. The Atlantic coastal city of Charleston experiences its eclipse at 14:47 local time.

It is around this time that Europeans will be catching their partial view of the event.

Ireland, Northern Ireland, northern England and Scotland see a full partial eclipse.